Flying, Children, and Food Allergies: A Stressful Combination
Air travel can be difficult for anyone, but it gets extra challenging when your child suffers from a food allergy. Don’t let allergies stop your family from flying, there are steps you can take to ease your mind and have a safe flight.
When you’re dealing with food allergies, it’s frightening not to have control over your environment. And air travel usually gives you very little control. By planning ahead you can increase your chances for a safe and uneventful trip.
My daughter was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts and tree-nuts at 14 months. She is now 8 years old, and we have been successfully traveling with her at least a few times a year since she was a baby.
Through the years, I’ve done a lot of research and figured out what works best for us. Here are some top tips that I have found to be useful.
Check airline policies before you go.
I don’t know why it has to be this way, but every airline has a different way of dealing with allergies.
Some airlines will let passengers with allergies preboard to wipe their seats down. Some will avoid serving the allergenic food on that flight. Some airlines will even go so far as to make announcements to the other passengers that someone with an allergy is on board. Some airlines will create a buffer zone of up to three aisles for the allergic passenger by asking those passengers not to eat the allergenic food.
And some airlines will do absolutely nothing. On rare occasions, an airline will do worse than nothing. Turkish Airlines kicked a man off of a flight when he informed them he had a nut allergy.
I have found that polices can vary on the same airlines based on different flight attendants. I had one airline that announced our allergy on our outgoing flight. But on the way home, no announcement was made. When I asked why, I was told, “It upsets people too much if they don’t get to eat their peanuts.”
The bottom line is, do your research before booking your flight. Most airlines should have allergy policies listed on their websites. I’ve found Southwest and Delta to be the most allergy-friendly for us.
Southwest lets you pre-board to wipe down your seat and they stopped serving peanuts in August of 2018. Delta also lets you pre-board. If your allergy is to peanuts, they will refrain from serving peanuts on that flight.
Airline policies can change at any time, so check ahead. Give the airline a call before flying to alert them of your allergy. You will also want to tell the gate attendant before boarding.
Take an early flight.
We try to do this when we can. Of course, it’s not always possible. But typically the planes are cleaned overnight and on early flights, the plane should be at its cleanest.
Wipe down your seat and tray table when you board.
Don’t forget your wipes. Hopefully, you will be on an airline that lets you pre-board to wipe down your seats. If not, don’t let that stop you from wiping everything down before your child sits down. This is one instance that it’s okay to make people wait.
I haven’t tried these, but if you want to be extra safe, you can get seat covers that completely cover up the airline seat and tray table from Amazon.
As an aside, we should all be wiping our tray tables down. They are disgusting.
Don’t use airline issued blankets and pillows.
Bring your own. According to flight attendants, these don’t get washed very often. They could be covered in contaminants, not to mention other people’s germs.
Pack your own food.
Bring safe snacks from home if you don’t want to deal with figuring out which foods are safe at the airport and onboard your flight.
Be aware that sometimes, but not at every airport (just to make it extra confusing) TSA will make you take your food out of your carry on luggage and put it in the bins to go through the x-ray machines separately.
I found this out the hard way. Nothing strikes fear in an allergy mom’s heart more than putting all her child’s safe snacks into a filthy airline bin that might have been filled with peanut butter sandwiches moments before.
Since then, I always pack our snacks in see-through plastic containers or ziplock bags. They stay enclosed and uncontaminated if TSA needs to see them.
Check out restaurants in the airport ahead of time.
I don’t always want to pack full meals when we travel. Sometimes you have to eat at airports. You can make it easier on yourself by going online to the airport’s website and looking for a list of dining options.
It may seem like a lot of planning, but when you have a hungry child at your side, it’s not the ideal time to start exploring your safe food options.
Bring your EpiPen and other medications.
Of course, you know you should always carry your EpiPen. The Food Allergy Research and Education website recommends letting the EpiPen go through the x-ray machine with your carry on luggage. They say there is no scientific evidence to suggest x-rays cause it harm. Their concern is that a visual inspection by a TSA agent could cause it to accidentally be activated or damaged.
Advocates are pushing to have all airplanes carry EpiPens onboard. It was just announced that Auvi-Q, another brand of epinephrine auto-injector, will be stocked in the medical kits on all American Airline flights. This is a great first step, and hopefully, other airlines will follow suit.
Have proper medical documentation.
This one isn’t required and we don’t usually do it. But it can’t hurt to have a doctor’s note detailing the allergy and medication used to treat it.
I can’t control delays, long lines, and hassles at security, but I can control how we manage my daughter’s allergy. And it has made life much easier.
What do you think? Do you have tips that you have found useful for flying with food allergies? If you do, please respond below, I am always looking for new ideas.