Angry Over CPAP Alert

January 29, 2010

in Luggage Stories

I, like many others, suffer from “Sleep Apnea” and use a device that keeps my airway open while I sleep. It is called a “CPAP” machine, which stands for Constant Positive Air Pressure. When I travel, the device and accessories fit neatly in my carry-on bag which is then subject to a search by our security professionals.

Every time I go through security, the attendant calls out “CPAP Alert” at which point I am taken off to the side and my bag is given a thorough search. The machine and all contents of my carry-on are removed, the CPAP is swabbed for explosives (of course no residue is found) and the contents are hastily returned to my bag and I’m free to go.

I do not have a problem with random searches, nor do I begrudge anyone from doing their job… but I fail to see the threat a CPAP machine poses to flight/airport security. I mean it’s one thing to randomly select passengers for additional screening, but to identify and select each and every passenger that is in possession of a CPAP machine is absolutely ludicrous!!!

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Melinda Hertel January 29, 2010 at 1:52 pm

I, of course, have had the same experience traveling. Maybe I am missing something or just don't understand how explosives are associated with CPAP machines, but why aren't computers swabbed too? Or any other electronic device someone might carry on, like a Kindle, iPod, cell phone, etc.?


jadefirefly January 29, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Just as a guess, it -may- be because CPAP machines are intended to forcibly expel air, and thus -could- be rigged to forcibly expel another substance if one was determined enough to.

That said, so could an oxygen tank, and I'm pretty sure they don't search every little old lady wheeling one of those around. So I'm not really sure.


Julie January 30, 2010 at 6:21 am

airlines don't allow private/passenger owned oxygen tanks on board. they have to use the airline provided tanks.


Theresa Flaherty February 1, 2010 at 5:08 am

Actually, there are about half a dozen FAA approved oxygen tanks that can be brought onboard by the patient.


Glenn R. February 1, 2010 at 8:36 am

Actually, Oxygen tanks are not permitted on the aircraft. The FAA approved units are oxygen generators – completely different from the tank.

As for the difference in security handling CPAP machines. Every device brought into the sterile area should be checked for forbidden items. Laptop computers are x-rayed and randomly swabbed before entering the secured area.


Me January 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I also carry a breathing machine and Yes, it does get searched every time I go through security at an airport.

Do I mind? No, not really as it's hardly worth getting upset about.

TSA is there for a reason and I hardly think they deliberately hassle people with medical equipment.

Grow up already people!, No, on second thought go right ahead and throw a tantrum because your CPAP is being searched.

Security gets a little dull at times, there's nothing like having the Police drag a crybaby away to liven things up.


Mike Goldman January 31, 2010 at 8:21 pm

As forum administrator for, the Sleep Apnea forum, this is a topic that I have seen provoke a lot of discussion. Personally, I think it's a small price to pay for bringing the device on board and not having it count as a carry-on.


Myself February 1, 2010 at 7:17 am

Swabbed heck.. Last flight I was on a away trip for 4 days. Breathing Machine, yells the guy as usual, OK, no problems, hand it over.

TSA guy takes it to a back room and comes back with a sheepish look on his face and hands me the unit and sends me on to my flight. Get to the hotel, error 7 on CPAP. It had been dropped. I spent 4 hellish days with little sleep…

from now on, the CPAP goes double boxed, FEDEX or better…


Iloveflying February 16, 2016 at 10:24 am

Why didn't they do it in front of you? That is weird


Dave February 1, 2010 at 7:41 am

The CPAP machines are targeted because some of them have humidifiers that hold liquids. This all started when they first banned liquids from aircraft. They later relaxed those restrictions but remained concerned about CPAP units since they could be filled with a dangerous liquid. What I don't understand is my unit does not have a humidifier attached. So xray should show that there is no liquid reservoir. Nonetheless they have been instructed to test all CPAP units for explosive residue.


Larry Couch February 1, 2010 at 9:58 am

I travel internationally with my CPAP. It is almost always the source of further examination. Many times it gets swabbed, but it is always done in my presence and in my line of sight. I think one of the issues is that the x-ray exam shows the cylindrical fan as a sealed cylinder, which can be very suspicious. I learned this as I passed through security in Kazan, Russia. They asked me to open it, so they could examine the "metal cylinder". When I showed them it was a sealed unit with a label that it is medical equipment, they passed it.

Hint: Carry it in a separate small case (my CPAP came with one) or pull it out (like a laptop) and put in a tray by itself and the intrusive exam is greatly reduced.


USMom February 3, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Very helpful, as my father has one, and will be travelling soon. Thanks!


Jeanie821 February 9, 2010 at 7:51 am

I also use a CPAP and travel with it regularly. Quit whining about it getting swabbed – laptops, portable DVD players and such are also being swabbed for explosives. Just allow extra time to go through security, and don't let that machine out of your sight for a minute.


polydolly March 24, 2010 at 6:31 am

My kids both use CPAP and while we have yet to fly with them, I did find info on the TSA web site. Worth looking at, especially if you are a little OCD about germs, like me!


Jackie June 5, 2010 at 1:19 pm

My laptop, shoes, bags, etc get swabbed and inspected all the time. I get patted down occasionally. Just learn to expect it, pack light, and try to be calm, because they are not going to stop what they are doing.


Ken February 27, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I've gotten used to the fact that I'll be pulled out of line so my CPAP can get the treatment, but I really got P.O'd when a TSA inspector dropped it, upside down, in front of me when he was done. Then, when I complained, he quickly darted off to tell a supervisor what "jerk" I was (I could read his lips and that's not the word he used.) It's a piece of medical equipment costing thousands of dollars which we need. Treat it better and don't make us feel like potential terrorists.


Justine February 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I've yet to travel with my CPAP. Even though it has a sticker indicating that it's a medical device, I expect to receive some extra scrutiny over it. I'll be sure to tell the inspector that it's fragile and not to drop it. Hopefully that will help to prevent what happened to you!


Tim March 1, 2011 at 11:34 am

I sort of have the same problem. I scuba dive a lot, and I bring with me an underwater housing for my camera, and I need to carry it on since the housing was not cheap, and I do not trust check in procedures. (Even when you mark something as fragile, 9 out of 10 times it will break) And every time I go through security, they dump all my crap out, swab it for explosives, then tell me everything is fine, and i'm on my way. I'm not angry over it, since I know that they have to do their jobs, but it's just annoying.


John October 30, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I find that if you take it out of the case and put it in a tray, they usually just let it go through without extra scrutiny. Once in a while they swab it for explosives, but I think by taking it out you can minimize the chances that they will touch it. I don't like when they handle it because they do not seem to understand that if it were damaged I would not be able to go on my trip. It is THAT essential for me to have it. Also, I take out only the main unit, not the humidifier. They don't seem to be interested in the humidifier, and the unit by itself is much smaller and easier to handle (less chance to damage it, I figure).


Dr. Sex Potato February 16, 2013 at 2:55 am

be less fattt lol


Travis April 21, 2019 at 8:19 pm

FYI: You don't have to be overweight to need a CPAP. I have one because my tonsils are huge, and can cause an airway restriction when I sleep.


Ozzie Travelor April 3, 2013 at 5:46 am

Really odd reading all these comments. I've travelled 30 times (Domestic Aust) with CPAP, 4 Flights Aust-US (right at time liquid restriction started) and 6 Flights Aust-Europe (Aug 2012) and my CPAP has NEVER been inspected.


Carl Geers May 25, 2016 at 2:45 am

I'm pretty sure the TSA at PDX stole my cpap. I put it in it's travel case and used two pair of nylon outdoor pants to pad it. It went through security and was taken for inspection. I found the bag on the conveyor after it had run through the xray machine and didn't bother to look inside. It is something that I'm not used to carrying around and I didn't notice the change in weight. Get home, get ready for bed, open the bag and no cpap. REALLY? The only time the machine left my side was at the TSA screening area. Thanks for costing me a metric ton of money!!!!!


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