Flying With Allergies

in Help & Advice, Managing Allergies, Parenting & School
Published: October 17, 2013

When a child has food allergies, traveling by air can be nerve-racking, yet it’s often the only way for our children to visit grandparents, go on family vacations, and see the world. With a little work, even families with allergies can find friendly skies.

Planning the Trip

• Talk to your child’s allergist about any special precautions you may need to take. Make sure prescriptions are up-to-date and ask for a letter stating that you need to carry certain medications and special foods when you travel.

• Review the online allergy policies of the airlines that fly to your destination. For example, if you’re dealing with peanut or nut allergies, look for an airline that does not serve them. Passengers will still carry on these snacks but your child’s likelihood of exposure will be reduced.

• Call potential airlines to clarify policies. For example, an airline might note that they serve tree nuts in first class, but not mention that they actually warm up loose mixed nuts in the kitchen area. Some airlines that serve peanuts, like Southwest Airlines, are reliable about serving an alternative (peanut- and nut-free) snacks to all passengers upon request.

• Before you purchase the tickets, be sure you’re clear on exactly what the airline is willing to do, and keep notes on conversations. Some airlines will provide a “buffer zone” where they will ask passengers around you not to eat the allergenic food. Many will let you pre-board to wipe down seats (in case of food residue). Most airlines today will not make an announcement asking passengers to refrain from eating nuts, peanuts or other allergens.

Leaving requests for accommodations to discussions with the gate agent or crew can lead to problems. (If you do encounter trouble at the gate, ask to speak with the airline’s customer relations officer (CRO). Write down his or her name, and calmly explain your issue.)

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• Whenever possible, book the first flight of the day or at least an early flight, as airplanes receive a thorough cleaning at the end of the day. Try to book a direct flight so that you’re not dealing with multiple planes and crews.

Bring on Board

• Pack your child’s medications (including at least two epinephrine auto-injectors) in their original packaging, along with a signed emergency plan and the letter from your physician. Never pack your child’s medication in the luggage that you plan to check. Keep it with you at all times, and do not store it in the overhead bin.

• Pack enough food for twice as long as your flight, as flights can be held on runways for hours. Never eat the airline food. This is not a time to take chances.

• Remember that yogurts, applesauce and puddings are considered liquids by the Transportation Security Administration. If you pack a cooler, use hard plastic freezer packs as squishy bags may be confiscated.

• Pack plenty of wet wipes, Kleenex, napkins, plastic utensils and small paper plates. Consider a blanket or sheet to cover the seat.

Next: Take-off and Landing