Last month we traveled to Florida by airplane. It was the first time my children have flown, and it was a very big deal for us, especially since my daughter has severe food allergies. She is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (all other nuts), shellfish, eggs and melons. I had many concerns getting ready for the trip – I was worried about peanut residue on the plane and if people would be eating peanuts around us.
I’m happy to report everything went well. Here are some of things we did to prepare:
1. Airline choice: Choosing which airline to fly with is a very serious decision. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, we have access to many large and small airlines. Each airline has their own policies about peanuts and accommodations. The reasons for caution include:
- Massive amounts of peanuts being eaten/consumed – There is a lot of dust in a bag of peanuts which may be released into the air when you open a package. It’s not a big deal if someone in another room opens a bag of peanuts, or way at the end of a plane. But it is a big deal if hundreds of passengers are all opening bags of peanuts at about the same time. The peanut particles are sent into the air – which is then basically trapped and recirculating in the cabin
- Residue on the planes – If an airline regularly gives out peanuts on each flight, there is a very good chance that most of the seats, arm rests and trays will be contaminated with peanut oils (from fingerprints) or have a layer of dust from the peanuts. Even a small trace of peanut oil or dust can cause a severe reaction for people with severe allergies to peanuts.
- Emergencies in the air – It’s especially important to prevent a food allergy reaction in an airplane because you don’t have all the usual ways to help someone as you do when they are on the ground.
I’ve heard from other allergy parents that not all staff at each airline understands their own policies and that they can be hit or miss in terms of following them. My choice for this trip was to fly Sun Country. They don’t serve peanuts for a snack, which means there is far less of a chance of #1 or #2 concerns from above happening. However, they will NOT make announcements to the other passengers requesting people to abstain from eating peanuts. You can read Sun Country’s peanut allergy policy on their “Special Needs” page here. The other large airline in town is Delta. You can see Delta’s peanut allergy policy here. If you notify them in advance, they say they will refrain from serving peanuts during the flight. However, note that they serve peanuts on all other flights and so the risk of peanut residue on the plane may be higher. Some people have told me that Delta will ask people to refrain from eating peanuts on these flights. Ultimately, you need to choose which option makes you feel most comfortable. Do your research and ask questions.
2. Clothing choices: One way to reduce exposure to peanut dust or oils on the plane is for the person with food allergies to wear long sleeves and long pants. We dressed in layers, so we all wore a long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt. This way if we wanted to take off a sweatshirt, we still had long sleeves on. I also packed a spare outfit for my daughter in her backpack, just in case she had a spill (which she did!). 🙂
3. Boarding early: You know how airlines always allow people with special needs to board early? Well food allergies definitely count for this! We boarded early for both our flights and it really helped. If you are traveling with 2 adults, only send one person on the plane early to wipe everything down and set up a seat cover, if you choose to use one.
4. Seating choice: If possible, have the person with the food allergy sit between two “safe” family members. On our flight, my daughter sat in the middle seat in between her brother and me. This helps reduce the risk of a stranger sitting next to them and possibly exposing them to allergens.
5. Wipe everything down: Bring plenty of baby wipes or “Wet Ones” with you to wipe everything down – this includes the seat, seat belt and buckle, arm rests, tray, and the back of the seat in front of you.
6. Seat cover: Many families choose to use a seat cover to further reduce exposure to allergens. We used a Kehei Traveler seat cover and it worked great. I particularly liked that it rolled up into its case easily, which fit nicely in my backpack. I also loved that it had covers for the arm rests AND the tray in front of you. And because of the way it’s constructed to wrap around the top of the seat, it won’t fall down or slip like a simple blanket would. A few other seat covers I’ve looked at online include: NiceSeats on Etsy, PlaneSheets and New Seats. Even though I used a seat cover, I still wiped down the seat and armrests before placing on the cover.
7. Snacks: I packed dry snacks for all of us for each flight. Don’t count on the plane serving options that will be safe for your child or that you’ll be able to simply find safe snacks at the airport. That said, I was pleasantly surprised that Sun Country had original Pringles as a snack option, which I purchased. Also, we brought our water bottles from home – empty to go through security, then filled them with water once we were at the airport. I used water fountain water for my son and I, but purchased a bottle of water for my daughter and dumped it into her water bottle (to avoid food particles that may have been left behind on the water fountain).
8. Medications: Last but definitely not least, plan far in advance with medications. We carried 4 EpiPens with us (2 in my backpack and 2 in my daughter’s), multiple doses of Benedryl/antihistamine (we use chewables). I made a special call to the allergist to ask for an advance prescription of steroids in case of a severe reaction on the plane. This was a tip from another food allergy parent. I was able to get the prescription easily by just calling our allergist’s office and leaving a message with the triage nurse. Then they called in the prescription. Another thing you can do to be prepared is to have your allergist provide a letter saying you need the epinephrine on the plane, just in case someone gives you any trouble. I also brought the paper copies of each prescription drug, in addition to having the labels on the items themselves. Make sure you pack all your medications in carry on luggage and keep it by your feet on the plane for easy access. Sometimes it’s difficult to get out of your seat to reach the overhead bins and you want everything at your fingertips in case of emergency.
Do you have additional tips or experiences on flying with food allergies to share? Please leave it in the comments!
You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.
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