Once we got through security, we had a little time to relax and make sure we had everything organized before boarding. I spoke to the employee at our gate about boarding first and he assured us we would. When it came time to board, he called first class customers and not us. I went up and reminded him, and he waved us through...much to the dismay of the first class flyers! Honestly though, they really wouldn't want us bumping them with the ventilator as we pushed by! At each gate after that, we stood close to the desk so that they wouldn't forget about us. It's hard to ignore a cute little girl in a wheelchair and her 5 looming pieces of medical baggage!
We loaded first and had time to get ourselves situated before the rest of the plane filled up. Matt sat across the aisle from me so that he could help get me supplies as needed. The vent went under the seat in front of me and the oxygen concentrator went under Abby's seat. We also managed to fit our 2 backpacks under there. Matt had the medical essentials bag under his feet, and we stowed everything else in the overhead cabin.
After hooking the oxygen concentrator up to the ventilator (it's called "bleeding it in"), I waited to turn anything on until we were practically ready to take off. Gotta save those batteries!
The kids all did great on the plane, but Abby proved her need for oxygen when the concentrator battery died and her saturation levels dropped to 86 quickly. Thankfully, I checked her sats often and was able to switch the battery out pretty fast.
One issue we didn't expect was that TWO of our rented oxygen concentrator batteries were broken and did not fit into the concentrator!! I had checked the indicator light to make sure they were all fully charged and had inspected each battery, but I didn't think I needed to make sure they actually fit--they were all the same battery! Lesson learned--physically put every single one in the concentrator! This was definitely nerve-wracking, especially on the way home when we didn't have as much time to charge everything during our layover. I had rented enough batteries to provide oxygen for time and a half of the total flight, but it obviously wasn't enough!
Another issue that became a factor on the way home was Abby's need for increased oxygen support. On the flights to Vancouver, she only needed the 1 liter her doctor prescribed. On the return flights, she needed to be increased to 1.5 liters and eventually to 2 liters. We didn't know what caused this, but then read about how older planes are pressurized at 8,000 feet and newer planes at 6,000 feet. We think this could have been the reason she had more trouble on the way home, because we were on an older plane. Unfortunately, increased oxygen means the batteries deplete quicker. Since we were already 2 down from the ones that didn't work, I was really concerned that we would run out. We touched down with 25% of a battery left! Shew!
Side note: NO, we most certainly did not pay for the two batteries that didn't work! I called as soon as we got home and had our money refunded for those two. The company was extremely apologetic, but it doesn't excuse the fact that they gave me two broken batteries!
A suggestion if you are flying with medical equipment would be to schedule layovers for as long as possible. We got everything charged during our layover out to Vancouver, but our layover on the way home was quick (and made quicker because we had to sit on the tarmac for a while after landing due to an issue with another plane at our gate), so we weren't able to recharge everything. Actually, I had to BEG people to unplug their cell phones so that I could get a plug because they were all in use. Even then, only one person did. Ugh. I ended up having machines plugged in at two different gates with family members staying with them until someone left and I could bring the oxygen concentrator back over. If we had had a longer layover, recharging wouldn't have been so critical. I would definitely plan for at least 4 hours of a layover so that you allow time for delays from your incoming flight.
Other than the battery issues, everything went great! My nieces and nephew aren't able to eat sugar and were given pretzels as an alternative to the cookies they passed out. The flight attendants had a variety of drinks, including sugar-free options. They don't typically provide straws, but gave me one when I asked for Abby. (Drinking from a cup with the bipap on is impossible!) The staff was very gracious about all of our "stuff" and offered several times to help. Our wheelchair was gate-checked and was waiting for us each time we got off the plane, so we had no issues with that.
Overall, our experience flying was great! You learn each time you do it, and now I know not to trust that the rental company will send you working batteries!