Flying With Food Allergies

Travel with Food Allergy
If you're booking a flight for vacation travel this summer, you may want to be aware of a recent study about food allergies and airplane travel. In a March 2013 article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers shared their findings when they set out to characterize the experience of persons with peanut and tree nut allergy who report in-flight allergic reactions. They also compared pre-flight and in-flight behavior between persons reporting and not reporting a reaction to determine whether any behaviors may be associated with safer flying.

The results come from a survey that was accessed and completed by 3273 persons- mostly parents of peanut and tree nut allergic children. 

More than 10% of respondents reported experiencing a reaction during a flight.

How's that for a frightening statistic?

It goes on to share:
  • 13% of those people who experienced a reaction received epinephrine
  • peanut was the attributed cause in 69.5% of the reactions
  • the crew was notified of the in-flight reaction in only 50.1% of cases
  • Airline policy on handling in-flight reactions to peanut and tree nut allergies has been inconsistent between different carriers and nations.
We have successfully flown many times with food allergies. We've always notified the airline in advance of our food allergy and need for accommodations. This study pointed out that fewer reactions occurred for those people who took "risk-mitigating behaviors". Here are the behaviors found by the study that may help decrease the chances of having an in-flight reaction:
  • making any request of the airline (in other words, tell the airline about your allergy and what you need)
  • requesting a buffer zone
  • requesting an announcement that passengers not eat peanut/tree nut–containing goods
  • requesting a peanut/tree nut–free meal
  •  wiping the tray table (we also wipe the seat and arm rests)
  •  bringing own food from home
  •  avoiding use of an airline-provided pillow
  • avoiding use of an airline-provided blanket
Of course, always carrying your own epinephrine injector (make that two injectors) is also critical. We have a note from our allergist stating that we need to carry life-saving medicine on-board so we don't have any last minute problems getting through security.

The study did note that "one single US carrier was associated with 63 reported reactions (18.1%)". That airline remained unnamed (hmmm....now I'm very curious!) Canada is the only country where a government agency has directly intervened, recently ordering Air Canada (but not other Canadian carriers) to establish a peanut/nut-free buffer zone, on specific request within 48 hours of departure. To date, the US Department of Transportation,has stated that it would not involve itself in the peanut/airline issue.

That means it's up to us. Carry your own food and medication and use the above listed risk-mitigating behaviors when you fly. You can successfully travel by plane with food allergies by being prepared and preparing in advance.

Wishing you happy and safe travels! Feel free to share your personal experiences in the comments below.

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