Planes are notorious for the tiny pouches of peanuts they adore handing out. With peanut and other life threatening food allergies steadily rising, it’s surprising that these are still the go-to snacks of so many airlines. Unfortunately, this makes flying with a peanut allergic child a risky venture, but not an impossible one. Here are some special precautions you can to take to make sure everyone has a safe trip.
Call the airline directly and speak to a real human. Explain that your child has a life threatening peanut allergy. Tell them you will need your flight to be a peanut-free flight, meaning they agree they will not serve any peanuts on your flight. Make sure the person you are speaking to understands this. If you don’t feel confident that they do, ask to speak to their supervisor. Some people ask that the airline provide written confirmation of their request. Some airlines will provide this, some won’t. Some airlines will ask for proof of medical diagnosis, so be prepared to provide this.
Do not accept a ‘buffer zone’ as a solution. Even though the scientific jury is out on airborne reactions, the risk still exists and is significant enough that I wouldn’t take a chance. You don’t want to find out your child reacts to airborne peanuts at 30,000 feet above sea level.
Have your Epi-pens (in their original box with prescription labels), 2 – 3 single-serving Benadryl, rescue inhaler (if necessary), medic alert bracelet and allergy information cards in your carry-on bag. Some airlines will check carry-on size suitcases if there isn’t enough room in the overhead bins, so be sure all of the above items are in your purse or other small back that can fit under the seat in front of you. If you’re flying with another adult, have them carry two extra Epi-pens just in case. Bring wipes for cleaning surfaces that your child will come in contact with on the plane. (Click here for FAAN information about cleaners that remove peanut allergens.)
Bring your own food. Your safest option is to say ‘no thank you’ to the airline snacks and instead bring food from home you know is safe. In addition to packing food for the flight in our carry on bags, we usually pack a small suitcase with food (we have multiple allergies). The bonus is that once the food is eaten we have room for souvenirs and the like.
Double, Triple Check-In
Arrive at the airport with ample time to deal with any unexpected snafus. When you check in, make sure there is a note on your child’s ticket that indicates they have a peanut allergy. When you get to the gate, check to see that the crew has been notified of the allergy. Ensure that they are aware that the airline has agreed no peanuts will be served on your flight. Make sure that you and your peanut allergic child are seated together.
When you board the plane, take a moment to introduce yourself and your child to the flight attendant greeting you at the door in order to make sure they are aware of your child’s allergy. Let them know where you are seated and that you are available if they have any questions about your child’s allergy. You may want to make a recording of yourself by this point, but the more people that are on the same page, the more people that can keep your child safe and prevent a reaction.
If you and your child have to sit with a stranger, explain that your child has an life threatening food allergy. Because many people bring their own snacks and food on planes, politely ask that they not eat any nut products while on the plane. Most people will be happy to oblige your request, but if you get any indication they aren’t willing to be cooperative, ask the flight attendant to switch seats.
The Wipe Down
When you get to your seats, wipe down all the surfaces that your child will have contact with on the flight to remove any peanut proteins (arm rests, seats, tray tables, window area). Look around the seats, floor and seat pouches in front of you for stray peanuts and packaging from the previous flights.
In Case Of Emergency
All of the above will hopefully prevent a reaction, but no situation is foolproof. If your child does have a reaction on the plane, follow the emergency protocol you have previously discussed with your child’s allergist. Notify the airline staff as soon as possible so that medical treatment can be waiting at the gate when you arrive at your destination.