I mentioned earlier this week that things have been a bit crazy around here lately…partly because we took Buddy, our son with multiple food allergies, on his first airplane! It took a lot of planning, thought, and careful preparation but it was worth the stress in the end. We did a ton of research, gathered the opinions and recommendations of many friends and folks in food allergy and eosinophilic esophagitis support groups, talked with Buddy’s doctors, and more…and I have compiled everything we learned about traveling through the skies with food allergies (and what helped us have a safe, successful experience) here. Hopefully it will help someone else in the same boat!
So here are all the tips and tricks we learned about flying with food allergies:
*note: We flew Southwest Airlines so some information may be specific to that airline.
1. Have a conversation with your child’s allergist well in advance of your trip regarding what safeguards they recommend having in place. He or she will have the best information for you as they know your child’s allergic history and care needs.
2. Notify the airline ahead of time. Investigate their policies (if they have any in place…many do) and what options may be available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for more than what they offer if you feel it is necessary. If you are not comfortable with what that airline will offer you in terms of accomodations, move on to another airline.
3. Make sure your allergy medications are fully stocked and are not expired…epi pens or other injectable epinephrine, benadryl, etc.
4. Pack epi pens, benadryl, and any other medications in carry-on luggage only and in a place that is easily accessible in the event of an emergency. The last thing you want is to be fumbling through an overhead compartment for an epi pen if your child is struggling to breathe. Also helpful is a copy of your allergy action plan. If you do not have one, ask your allergist for one right away.
5. Pack your own food/snacks. I packed WAY more than I thought I would need and was glad I did. You never know when you’re going to be met with a delay. Also, kids like options. That’s not a surprise to anyone. 😉
6. Pack LOTS of wipes! I brought Lysol wipes for cleaning our area on the plane (more on this later), antibacterial hand wipes for keeping our hands clean (remember, hand sanitizers alone do NOT remove allergenic proteins…you need a wipe to scrub them off!), and regular baby wipes for wiping my son’s face and other miscellaneous needs.
7. Talk to your child about the upcoming experience so they know what to expect and feel comfortable if they are old enough to understand. Think about all of the new experiences they are about to have…from the ticketing counter, to TSA security checkpoints, to boarding the plane, to possible turbulence, and everything in between. This should be a serious conversation, but it’s ok to make it fun too!
8. Arrive early! It is much easier to be relaxed and focused if you aren’t in a rush.
9. Southwest Airlines offers the option to “flag” a passenger with a peanut allergy when you purchase your ticket. We chose this option for our son which meant that when we arrived at the airport and printed our boarding passes, we also received an extra document declaring his peanut allergy. We held on to this until we boarded the plane and gave it to a member of the flight team (in our case a flight attendant) so they would know we were the ones with the peanut allergy.
10. Need a car seat? Always check your own! Car rental agencies cannot guarantee that their car seats are free from your child’s allergens. Who knows what has been eaten by the child who used it before you. You can purchase car seat travel bags or go the cheap route, like we did, and wrap it up in a beach blanket for padding then stuff the whole bundle in several plastic trash bags. Kept our seat clean and protected from being tossed around in baggage claim.
11. When bringing medications through the TSA checkpoint, it is not necessary to declare epi pens, however, don’t be surprised if you are asked to take them out. Not everyone knows what they are…this is when having your allergy action plan may come in handy. Just in case. Liquid medications may be carried on board, even if they are over 3.4 fl. oz. They must be declared and are subject to possible inspection. Our benadryl was not inspected on the way out but it was on the way back, even though it was still sealed in original packaging. We were asked to open it and break the seal for the TSA agent to hold a test strip above the open bottle. It took 3 seconds, was no big deal, and we were on our way.
Can you believe we’re not even on the plane yet?! 🙂
12. Proceed to your gate and obtain a preboard pass. Southwest offers this option to individuals with peanut allergies to allow them to board and wipe down their seat/area/row to remove as much residual peanut protein as possible.
13. Preboard, give PA documentation to the first flight attendant you see, ask for an announcement to be made (we didn’t have to ask but you may need to…the announcement just stated that there was an individual on board with a nut allergy and asked passengers not to eat any foods they brought aboard that contain nuts), and wipe all surfaces in your row/area. We also removed all of the booklets (SkyMall, etc) from the seat back in front of our son so he wouldn’t be tempted to touch.
14. We were lucky enough to have an adult to sit on either side of our son, which was helpful! Lessened worries of him reaching into the aisle, having a stranger who may or may not be understanding sit with us, or having him put his hands and face all over the window. Bleck. We sat Buddy in the middle seat, which worked well for him.
15. Bring activities that will keep your child as content as possible and keep them from moving around and touching too many things. Think about a dvd player with some movies, books, stickers, color wonder books, an iPad or other tablet, etc. Items that would be difficult to clean post-flight are best left at home or at least stowed in luggage during the flight.
16. Wipe hands often–especially before eating anything. We were a little hyper-vigilant of this but it’s better than missing an opportunity to wipe and having a reaction.
17. After flying, wash hands thoroughly, and clean any toys, dvd players, etc. that were used during the flight. You may even want to change clothes and/or shower if you feel it necessary to do so immediately. This may depend on the severity of your or your child’s allergy.
18. Thank the flight crew for a safe trip and consider getting their names and noting your flight’s date, time, and number to send an email or letter to the corporate office. The more friends we can make in the “fight” to make the skies a friendlier/safer place for passengers with food allergies, the better!
Have you traveled with food allergies? What other tips do you have to share?