On the Road or In the Air: Traveling with Food Allergies
It’s the holiday season and the time of the year when traveling to visit friends and relatives becomes a major part of family activities. Whether you’re on the road or in the air, if you’re traveling with food allergies, take special care to plan ahead and be well prepared.
ON THE ROAD
If you’re traveling by car, prepare enough safe snacks to get you to your destination. Keep the snacks and your child’s medications in a bag or container you’ll have handy in the car. Be sure to bring your own epinephrine auto-injectors with a few extras just in case. Remember that epinephrine likes its comfort. Don’t leave it in the car where it might become overheated or freeze.
It is also a good idea to carry a phone list of your food-allergic child’s doctors and an emergency contact number of someone near home who could answer questions about your child if you become ill and are unable to speak for them. Hopefully, you’ll never need it, but knowing where the location and phone number of the emergency department nearest your destination could save valuable minutes.
BEFORE YOU FLY
- Call the airline and ask about their allergy policy before you book your ticket. This is not the occasion for surprises.
- Look at the airline’s website or call customer service to find out what foods are served or sold on board.
- When you book your flight, make sure to tell the reservations agent about your allergies, and what specific accommodations you need.
- Book a flight that’s earlier in the day, because the planes get cleaned overnight. Nuts are rarely served early in the day, so you have a better chance of avoiding the allergen on seats and in seat pockets.
- Book direct flights when possible to reduce the need to deal with multiple planes and flight crews.
- Bring your auto-injectors and/or asthma medications with you onto the plane (do not check them). Ask your doctor for a letter authorizing you to carry medications on the plane. Security requires that your medications show a prescription label in the name of the patient/traveler.
- Bring a day’s worth of extra doses just in case of delays.
IN THE AIR
- Tell everyone you deal with – the check-in agent, the staff at the gate, the flight attendants – about your child’s allergies. Even if the booking agent said you will be accommodated, play it safe and make sure everyone knows.
- Arrive at the gate early and talk to the staff before they’re too busy. Be clear, calm and polite.
- It isn’t a problem for most food allergic children, but if you’re concerned about contact with allergen residue from previous passengers, ask to pre-board and wipe down the seats, tray tables and armrests. You can also cover the seat with a blanket or a seat cover. Bring wipes to wash your hands.
- Bring your own food. Don’t eat meals prepared by the airline’s caterers, even if a flight attendant tells you there are no nuts or other allergens. You don’t know if there has been cross-contamination in the preparation. Bring extra food in case of delays.
- Keep medication with you; do not store it in the overhead bin.
- If someone near you is eating a food that is dangerous to you, politely explain your situation and ask if they would be willing to stop. If they are, say thanks and offer to buy them some food that is safe.
- Have a plan for what happens if a reaction occurs.
- If you are reacting to something, tell the flight crew. It is important that they know about your condition.
AFTER YOUR FLIGHT
If you had a good experience, make sure to thank the flight crew for their efforts, and tell them you’ll definitely fly with the airline again. Write a letter to the airline (copying the company president), expressing your appreciation, and noting that you will certainly travel with the company again and will encourage others to do so. If you engage in social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) publicly recognize your positive experience.
If you have an unpleasant experience, write to the airline and politely explain what happened. Tell them that you and your family will think twice before flying with the carrier again. Also include information about what could have made your flight better. You can also lodge a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.