Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tips for flying safely with food allergic angels

My angel has flown since 3 months of age, earning angels wings for 3 round-trip flights before the 1st birthday!  With spring break looming in the near future, many families will also be thinking about traveling with their angels and we are no different.  But, just as with any other allergic child, with air travel, also comes the worries.  "What will they touch?"  "What did the people in this seat before you eat?"  "Did anyone nearby eat a nut?  Did anyone drop a nut?" 

However, by planning ahead, our angel has flown and does fly safely.  While this is not to say that everyone is ready for this challenge, that every flight is equally safe, or that every allergic person can do this.  But, it does say that many can and do.

Here are someof the things that we do to fly safer.  I hope that it helps you, too.
  1. When making your plane reservations, try to schedule the first flight of the day and speak directly with reservation specialists.  Often, airlines are willing to make the first flight of the day a  nut-free flight.  Often, planes are cleaned overnight and so the first flight is one where no one has flown.  That means, no one has eaten nuts on there yet, either.  So, talk with airlines and try to get on the first flight as a nut-free flight.
  2. Try to get seats where the allergic angel is not sitting directly next to a stranger or someone who might have eaten  nuts before getting on the plane.  That means, perhaps a middle seat between mom and dad or a window seat with the parent in the middle (or on the aisle in the case of a 2-seat configuration).
  3. When making reservations, notify the reservation specialist that you are flying with a severely nut allergic child so that they may note that on the reservation.  Have the reservation noted that you would like no nuts served 3 aisles in front of you and 3 aisles in back of your seat.  On that note, if you are able to get seats 4 aisles behind the bathrooms then you will increase the nut-free zone.  So use the planes layout to your advantage when choosing your seats.
  4. Take at least 2 sets of Epi-Pens.  Some people recommend  a pen for every 20 minutes of the flight although I usually just carry a set for her and a set for me.
  5. Load up on travel Benedryl packages.  Benedryl has always gone a long way for controlling my angels reactions.  We have had reactions on planes, although I don't think that it is from an airborn allergen but rather something that she touched.
  6. Plan your food and decide how you will travel with it.  It is often a good idea for severely allergic travelers to bring their own food.  While security limits liquids, you may bring solid foods without a problem.  Also, in case of problems, it is a good idea to bring a note from the doctor explaining the allergens so that security is aware.
  7. Bring LOSTS of baby wipes!  Do I need to say more?
  8. Take sufficient food in case there is a problem during travel.  Whether your are stuck on the runway or the plane is diverted, food can be an issue. Bring along emergency food so that the allergic angel can eat regardless of the situation.
  9. When you check in at the airport and/or gate, verify that the note about the food allergies is on the reservation and the proper percautions have been taken.
  10. At the gate, ask the agent if you made board early to prepare your allergic child's seat for a safe flight.  I have had some agents tell me, "no" but most are more than happy to help.
  11. When boarding the plane, remind the head flight attendant about the allergy and request that the "3 aisle rule" be used to keep nuts as far away from your child as possible.  It is best to do this as you are settling in or boarding to ensure that the proper precautions are taken.  Then, at snack time, watch like a momma hawk to see that the agreed upon requests have been followed.
  12. In your seat, wipe down the area thoroughly and cover the seat with a crib sheet (if needed).  This is an extra precaution to avoid cross-contamination.
  13. Consider bringing your own car seat or a CARES seatbelt for the child to use.  I believe that small children need more restraint than the standard airline seatbelt. While using your child's car seat may actually provide a more allergy-free seat for them, I do not want to lug it through the airport nor sit next to it on the plane and my angel isn't too excited about spending a long flight stuck in her car seat without much wiggle room.  So, I wipe down the exsisting seatbelt and use a CARES seatbelt for airplanes.  It loops around the seat, attaching to the planes seatbelt to form a five-point harness.  Frankly, I love my CARES and I wouldn't tfly without it.  For more info about the CARES seatbelt, see their website: 
  14. Once your angel is settled in, you just assume the mother hawk position, watching and wiping as you go.
It is important, however, to remember that flying with food allergic angels is always risky.  Each family must make their own decision based on how much risk they are prepared to take relative to the benefit of the flight.  As parents of allergic children, we are called daily to weigh the risks and benefits of each activity.  Whether it is visiting the playground or going to the grocery store, we have to look risk in the eyes and decide which way to go. We are the parents and our children are watching.   Each step that we take and each choice that we make shows our children how to live a safe but full life.  We are the parents and we must balance our desire to preserve our child's life with our child's desire to explore it. 


  1. "We present 17 children from 11 families with the allergic form of Meadow's syndrome (Munchausen by proxy). In all cases their mothers believed that they had severe disease due to allergies--in 16 cases to foods and in one to house dust mite. The maternal obsession with allergen avoidance resulted in bizarre diets and life styles. Most mothers were articulate and middle class, and many had marital problems (three single parents). They had a limpet-like attachment to their child and insisted on many medical consultations. Management proved very difficult and despite careful exclusion of allergic disease, many remained on diets and failed allergy clinic follow up. In most cases the obsession with allergy had been initiated by doctors."

  2. @Caleb Studies such as these concern me because they may often be misleading to the general public. This very small scale study of Meadow's Syndrome focuses on children of mothers with marital issues who, although they accepted initial medical advice, did not maintain follow-up visits. It is often easy to take a small scale study such as this and project their narrow results upon people whose medical particulars we do not know. Doing that, would do more harm than good. It is also important to note that the children in this study were 17 with Meadow's Syndrome of 301 allergic children who received detailed dietetic assessment of the greater approximately 1600 in St. Mary's Hospital's pediatric assessment.

  3. @ Caleb "It must be emphasised that most patients investigated for food intolerance or allergy have genuine adverse reactions to foods. We have continually been surprised by the variety and unexpected nature of responses to foods." "Dr Warner selected 17 children from among several hundred allegedly allergic children who were found not to be allergic. The particular problem for these children, as study of the detail of the results and discussion sections of his paper shows, was the way in which extraordinary and unpleasant regimens
    were inflicted on the children because of the mothers' obsessions-for instance the school child who had to sleep on an upturned wardrobe wrapped in toilet paper and silver foil."