Plan and prepare when traveling by air
When it comes to traveling by air with food allergies, celiac disease or gluten intolerance it is important to choose the airline that can accommodate your needs. With a peanut or tree nut allergy it is very nerve-wracking to be on a flight that serves dozens and dozens of little bags of peanuts or mixed nuts. The fear of cross contact is amplified because of passengers who have nut dust and nut residue on their hands. Their hands touch bathroom handles, trays, seat rests, TV screens, volume controls, the individual light switches and air ducts that are above everyone’s seat,and overhead suitcase bin latches. The troubling part is being up in the air with only a couple of Epi-pens or Auvi-Q injectors with no hospital in sight. This feeling of powerlessness can cause great anxiety.
The statistical reality is that very few people that are anaphylactic to peanuts and tree nuts are sensitive to the minor amount of peanut dust that occurs when opening a bag of peanuts (ditto for tree nuts). That does not make flying any easier; families who manage food allergies worry that their child will be the one of the rare ones who do react. Our family is included. But we have a plan to make flying safer. The Food Sensitive Shopper can help you shop for the right carrier for you or your family.
Here are some steps we take when planning a trip that includes air travel (you can also include bus,train and boat travel too):
1. Call the airline to ask questions about the particular flight you are hoping to book. Here are some to get you started…
a. We are flying to ___, what snacks and foods do you serve on board? Do you serve substitute snacks or meals when a passenger has a severe food allergy?
b. How well is the aircraft cleaned before boarding? Are trays, door handles, bathroom sink faucets, and other surfaces cleaned after each flight?
c. Is pre-boarding available so you can wipe down surfaces in your row?
d. Do they stock epinephrine in emergency medical kits on board?
When you hear their answers, and depending on your comfort level you can then make a decision whether to book a flight.
2. Bring hand wipes and wipe down everything including your child’s hands and yours as needed. Even though you can wash hands the wipes provide convenience and allow for a quick response.
3. Carry safe food in your carry on bag. Bring extra just in case you are delayed at the airport, on the run way, or other type of delay.
4. Most importantly make sure you have emergency medication with you at all times. Other necessary items in this category are: food allergy action plan, contact numbers and insurance card (to use once you land)
Our most recent in-flight experience
Let me tell you a story about our flights last year to illustrate a point –
We called Iceland Air to book flights to and from Europe last year. We presented our questions about flying with food allergies safely and they referred us to a customer service number to ask the questions. So I called and they said they would put a note on our record about the food allergies. They assured us that they take special precautions and the airline attendants would be aware of our son’s needs before boarding. We took that to mean the gate attendant would also know. When she did not we were obviously distressed but she assured us she would follow through by asking the attendants before they boarded. She did follow through and the attendants were aware. When we boarded they talked with us and advised our son not to sit on an aisle seat in case someone accidentally touches him or something spills on him. Then they made a pre-flight announcement in three languages; French, Icelandic, and English; that there was a passenger on board with a nut allergy and they would not be serving any food containing nuts. They advised the other passengers not to eat any nut products as well.
That is what we call service. It was carried out this way on the outbound and return flights. Our son was so grateful. The only mistake was when they gave our sons the complimentary boxed lunch which our son with food allergies could not eat.
BYO GF Food
For those of us who are gluten free travelers it can be difficult finding and purchasing safe foods. I am a proponent of packing snacks, sandwiches (on GF bread), fruits (dried and fresh), and those little boxes of coconut milk to get me through a flight and through the next meal after landing. It may not be a home cooked, delicious meal but it is safe, filling, and satisfying for the time being. If you want to eat airline food ask the customer service rep in reservations when you book your flight for a special gluten free meal. If booking online often times there is a meal selection; check to see if gluten free is an option. So many carriers charge for food these days that free food service is not always available.
For gluten free adults only – Alcohol on board may not be gluten free. There is gluten in beer, scotch, bourbon, rye, whiskey, and some ciders, vodkas, rums and flavored alcoholic beverages. Best bet – a glass of champagne, wine, or certified gluten-free cider or beer.
The magazine, Allergic Living, has on their website a chart of airline allergy policies. Go to: http://allergicliving.com/index.php/2010/08/30/comparing-airlines/
We hope you have great service, are safe and happy when on your next flight.