Flying is often a hassle, but when you have a child with food allergies it’s so much more than that. You have to worry about cross-contamination, accidents and the dreaded allergic reaction that may happen on the plane if something goes wrong. If you plan ahead, though, and know the airline’s policies on food allergies before you go, you and your child should have a safe and relaxing trip.
Check out Airlines First
Before you even book a ticket, start planning your trip by reading the food allergy policy for the airlines you may be flying. You can go directly to the airline’s website to find the policy. You can also search a comprehensive list of airlines on a site like AllergyTravels.com to read reviews and about the experiences of other travelers with food allergies. The reviewers will give you helpful tips, such as whether or not an airline allows you to select allergy-safe or peanut-free for food options, for instance.
For a severe allergy, there are steps an airline can take to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. For instance, for peanut allergies, creating a peanut buffer zone around a child can reduce the risk of a reaction. This involves ensuring the people sitting around the child won’t be eating peanuts and that the child’s tray and seat are wiped down.
If your child has a history of reacting to even tiny traces of an allergen, you can contact an airline and find out if they are willing to take these steps to create a buffer or let you pre-board to clean the area yourself. Some will allow it, such as JetBlue, while others, like American Airlines, will not.
Booking Your Flight and at the Airport
Once you have chosen your airline, inform them of your child’s allergy when you book the tickets. Notify the employees again when you check into the flight at the gate. Bring your own safe snacks on the flight, either from home or purchased at the airport. Even if you are not allowed to pre-board, take care once you arrive at your seats to wipe down surfaces and to check the seats for any remaining pieces of food that could cause harm.
Bring Your Epinephrine Auto-Injector
Of course, no matter how accommodating the airline or how cautious you have been, accidents can happen. Always bring at least two epinephrine injectors on the flight. Make sure they go into your carry-on bags. A bill introduced in the Senate in 2015 would require that aircraft carry two packs of epinephrine injectors and that airline staff be trained in using them, but until that bill passes, families must rely on themselves to have the medicine and to know how to use it in an emergency.
Making a Complaint
The airline staff will be more willing to work with you if you are kind and courteous, so be respectful in making requests. If you find that the staff does not treat you or your child well or fairly, you can make a complaint after the flight to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Airline Consumer Protection Division. Making complaints helps to make changes in how people with food allergies are treated and accommodated, so it is worth your time and effort.
Flying can certainly be stressful, especially when you have a food-allergic child, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. With the right planning and by choosing your airline carefully you can make sure your family travels safely and has fun.