Air travel and allergies

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By Margaret Jaworski

Airline travel isn’t as much fun as it used to be. And for children and adults with food allergies, particularly severe peanut and tree nut allergies, air travel can be a special challenge.

If you or your child has a food allergy, traveling safely takes planning. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Disease, roughly 15 million Americans, including 3 million children, have some type of allergy. Although there are more than 150 known food allergens, the Food and Drug Administration says that eight foods account for 90% of all food allergies in the U.S.: peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews), milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish. For airline passengers, peanut and nut tree allergies seem to pose the biggest problems.

There are ways to make the skies friendlier for those with food allergies, though. To help you have a safer trip, we’ve compiled these tips from The International Air Transport Association (IATA), The Anaphylaxis Campaign, and Food Allergy and Research.

Before travel  

Contact your physician and discuss the travel-related risks involved. If your doctor prescribes an epinephrine (adrenalin) auto-injector (such as EpiPen), keep the medication in your purse or carry-on baggage. Once on the plane, keep it in an easily accessible place such as the seat pocket.

Before booking your flight, read the carrier’s allergy policy posted on its website. Find it with the search function using the words allergies or peanuts.” When making your reservation, ask the agent how the airline deals with allergen-sensitive fliers and whether it can make any accommodations for example, a nut-free “buffer zone.” If possible, find an airline that doesn’t serve peanut or tree nut snacks. Ask if any no-peanut policy applies across all classes of service.

Even if the airline doesn’t serve peanuts or another food you’re allergic to, it cannot restrict the type of snacks that other passengers may bring on board. Keep in mind that no airline can guarantee a totally peanut- or tree nut-free flight.

Bring your own meals on board with you. Always check with the airline directly to see if it has any restrictions on food brought on board. Nonperishable foods are best as some airlines have regulations restricting the re-heating of passengers food. If you are traveling internationally or have stopovers, check the applicable quarantine laws of the countries you’re traveling to or through. Some countries do not allow certain types of food to be carried even in transit.

Day of travel 

Arrive early at the airport to allow yourself plenty of time to go through security, reconfirm your requests regarding specific seating or early boarding.

Be aware of security screening rules. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has specific guidance for carrying liquid and/or injectable medications through security screening checkpoints and onboard commercial aircraft.

Travelers should notify the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) at the checkpoint if they are carrying medication and supplies. Passengers may present medical documentation regarding a medical condition to help inform TSOs; this documentation is not required, however, nor will it exempt passengers from the screening process.

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