We're back from Spring Break in Florida, so since I'm fresh from air travel with nut allergies I wanted to share our experience. Many readers and Facebook fans have questions about this topic, so this is for you!
The prospect of air travel can be frightening for families dealing with food allergies for so many reasons. Close, cramped airplane seats, peanuts or tree nuts served to all passengers as snacks, recirculated air, food brought on by other passengers, food left over from previous flights are all of concern.
Here is the most important lesson to learn from air travel: There is absolutely no way you can ever elminate all allergenic foods from your flight. There are many reasons for this; I witnessed several incidences. For one thing, even though some airlines no longer serve peanuts, they sell "snack packs" to people willing to pay for them. These packs often contain a pack of tree nuts. Secondly, airlines in general do not even offer snacks anymore or lunches, dinners, etc. unless you are flying First Class. (And I don't know many families who do that.) What does that mean? Due to the "no snacks" policies, I saw many families bringing on full lunches or buying food at the airport for the plane trip.
Both of our flights got delayed and in one case, re-routed due to bad weather and we ended up on one flight several hours longer than had been anticipated. People get hungry and want to eat.
Deciding whether or not your severely allergic child is fit for air travel is very personal and something you should speak to your doctor about. In our case, we have successfully flown several times with our severely allergic daughter. I'm not saying it's not stressful at times, but having preparation and a game plan definitely helps.
If you do decide to fly, you can take proactive measures. Here are some things we did/considered before flying.
The airline. Know the policies of the airline before you buy a ticket. Note: They will NOT change their policies for individual passengers in most cases. By choosing an airline that does not serve peanuts/tree nuts as the in-flight snack given to all passengers, you can reduce risk. Use Plane Sheets and ask to board early to clean your seating area. We've done this. Usually, we run into other families boarding early to clean seats, too (on a recent flight, we were one of three families boarding early because of allergies.) I can't emphasize enough that keeping your cool with the airlines is key. They have been known to boot passengers with allergies if the families start making demands that are not "in policy." That's why I strongly recommend that you know the airline's policies before buying the ticket.
Take your inhaler/epinephrine autoinjectors/anihistamine in your carry-on. Having a note from your doctor is nice because you can show it if someone questions your meds. However, on recent flights not one person questioned our daughter's autoinjectors or other medications. In fact, they announced at the airport security that these items were allowed. Having important meds close at hand is crucial, so don't put them in your bag that will go in the cargo hold; carry those with you at all times.
The time of day. We were unable to get the earliest flights of the day, so we did fly on planes that had been previously vacated by a previous flight's passengers. Many times the early flights are "cleaner" i.e. other passengers have not had a chance to leave food residue.
Board early. We asked the attendants at the check-in desk if we could board with the young children/needs special assistance group so that we could clean our seating area before others boarded the plane. This was a huge help and we were able to do this on both flights. I cleaned the arm rests, looked at the seats and immediate floor area and the tray tables. I wiped off the surfaces my daughter would touch with wipes (not too strong-smelling, since some people react to fragrances esp. in a plane's close quarters) and we were good to go.
Bring safe snacks/hand wipes. My daughter had food for the flight so the food on offer wasn't an issue. We also served her a bottled or canned drink during the beverage service. Some airlines use a communal bottle and cups for water and juice. It's possible for snack items to get into these vessels so we chose sealed containers. Before eating her own snack, my daughter used a hand wipe (her suggestion, her choice. I liked it. :))
Seating. We strove to get seating in a row just with our family. On the way home, our family had split seating so I put my daughter next to the window with me in between. That way, there was a person between her and the other passenger not in our group. If you have enough people in your party, claiming an entire row is a nice way to reduce the food exposure.
These were relatively simple measures and we did well on the flight. My daughter was a little sneezy afterwards but I think it had more to do with her seasonal allergies kicking in. Though we were surrounded by people and food, we were happily able to enjoy our flight.
The main point I want to make is that you can travel by airplane with kids who have severe nut allergies if you take some precautions. Allergic Living magazine has a great airline info sheet that compares airlines and their food/peanut policies so please check out that great, well-researched resource.
I will have more posts about our recent travel experiences, so please check back soon!