For many people, traveling feels like a chore. For children and adults with allergic reactions to food, 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 states 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
  • shellfish

For airline passengers, however, peanut and nut tree allergies pose the biggest problems.

There are ways to deal with these food allergies during travel, 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  

air travel and allergies

Contact your physician and discuss the travel-related risks involved. If your doctor prescribes an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an 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.

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Before booking your flight, read the carrier’s allergy policy posted on its website. Find it with the search function and input your own particular allergy. When checking-in, ask the desk agent how the airline deals with allergen-sensitive fliers and whether it can make any accommodations. For example, some planes may have a nut-free “buffer zone.”

If possible, find an airline that doesn’t serve peanut or tree nut snacks. Additionally, ask if the no-peanut policy applies across all classes of service.

Even if the airline doesn’t serve the 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 total peanut-or-tree-nut-free flight.

If you have a life-threatening allergy, bring your own meals on board with you. Always check with the airline directly to see if it has any restrictions on food. Non-perishable foods are best since some airlines have regulations restricting the re-heating of 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: Medication Regulations

air travel and allergies

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

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

Travelers should notify the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) at the checkpoint if they are carrying medication and/or supplies. Passengers may present medical documentation regarding a medical condition to help inform TSOs; this documentation while not required, may help during the screening process.

Still, to avoid problems and delays, keep medications in their original packaging or in labeled prescription bottles, as some states have individual laws regarding prescription medication labeling with which passengers may need to comply. Note: If you’re traveling abroad, make sure your medications are labeled, and bring a note from your doctor confirming the prescription and the condition for which it was prescribed.

Liquid medications including prescription, over-the-counter items, and homeopathic containers larger than 3.4 ounces must be placed in a bin with no other items and declared to the TSO for additional screening. Although medications are not subject to limitations, passengers are encouraged to limit the quantities they pack in their carry-on bags to what they will reasonably need for the duration of their itinerary, allowing for delays.

Day of travel: Screening

If you need an accessory, such as freezer packs or frozen gel packs, to keep your liquids, gels, and/or aerosols cool, they are permitted through the screening checkpoint but may be subject to additional screening. These items are treated as liquids unless they are frozen solid at the checkpoint. If the accessories are partially frozen or slushy, they are subject to the same screening as other liquids and gels.

If you have questions, go to the TSA Cares Help Line website, call the helpline at TSA at 1-855-787-2227 or email TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov.

Ask the gate agent if you can pre-board to inspect and clean your seating area. Bring wet wipes to clean the seat and tray table. It will help reduce the chances of inadvertent skin contact with food particles or spills. Eating food off a contaminated surface could lead to accidental ingestion of allergens through cross-contact.

On the plane

air travel and allergies

You should consider mentioning to those sitting close by that you or your child has a severe allergy. If it is your child, try to position them away from other passengers. Put them near a window seat, or between yourself and your partner or another one of your children.

Alert cabin crew members that you or your child has a severe allergy so that they can respond quickly and appropriately if a reaction occurs.

Even though airlines routinely clean aircraft, it is impossible to guarantee an allergen-free environment. Bring your own sanitizing wipes to clean off armrests, meal trays, and seatbacks.

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The team at Pain Resource update this page Jan 2020. air travel and allergies, How to Manage Air Travel and Allergies

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