Believe me when I say that you don't have to sacrifice your fun in the sun for your food allergies. With some careful planning and preparation, you too could be sitting out on the beach, drinking a mai-tai, and people-watching to your heart's content. Here's how:
When You Book Your Flight:
Find Out the Airline's Allergy Policy - Will they let you board early so you can wipe down your seat? Can you get a "no peanut snacks" buffer placed around you? Different airlines have different policies and it never hurts to see what is available. You should be able to get this information by visiting their website or called their toll-free 800 number.
Pick An Early Flight – Most airlines advise people with severe food allergies to fly in the morning. Airplanes are cleaned more thoroughly at night so there is less chance of cross-contamination from previous passengers sitting and eating in your seat if you're on one of the first few flights out.
Notify the Airline of Your Food Allergy – If you are booking over the phone, make sure to mention your food allergy to the customer representative. If you're going through an online service, call the airline after you confirm the flights and inform them of your allergy. Even though the representative makes a notation on your ticket, you will still want to mention your allergy to the agent behind the ticket counter, the rep at the gate, and a flight attendant as you board.
Check With the TSA About Carrying Medication Onboard – The TSA's regulations on liquids and medication seem to change on a monthly basis. It's best to check their website for the latest restrictions and requirements.
Get A Doctor's Note – You never know when someone (airlines, airport personnel, TSA, etc.) will demand proof of your food allergy. Be prepared and get a note from your doctor stating your allergy, any medication you must take, any restrictions that must be followed to ensure you health and safety.
Before You Head For the Airport
Check the Airline's Meal and Snack Offerings - You'll be glad to know that some airlines have dropped the customary bag of peanuts that used to be served with drinks but that doesn't mean that all of their snacks are nut-free. It's important to check the food offerings so you know what part of the flight you need to be careful about.
Wear Your Medical Alert Bracelet – Many lives have been saved because of these little pieces of jewelry. Buy one and wear it even if your allergy isn't that severe. If you become unresponsive at any time during your vacation, medical response teams will see your bracelet and immediately know what's wrong.
Pack Food That Is Safe For You To Eat – Even if the airlines are serving food that seems safe for you to eat, don't trust it. Menu items can be changed at the last moment or different ingredients can be added or subtracted making it unsafe for you. Trust no one! Pack your own food! Just make sure that you keep within the TSA's requirements for food and liquid or you will end up throwing out your carefully prepared lunch at security.
Pack Your Medication and Keep it With You – Pack your medication in a way that it will pass TSA scrutiny while keeping it safe. If you need to keep it cold, use the hard plastic "blue ice" ice pack in a small lunch cooler. Also, keep it packaged in such a way that you can access it easily. That means keep it out of the big bag that you will put in the overhead bin – put it in your purse or messenger bag that goes under the seat in front of you.
Have A Reaction Plan Ready – Take a moment before you leave to write down your full name, address, phone number, an emergency contact, and any information about your allergy that emergency responders may need to know. Keep this on your body or with your medication at all times.
At The Airport
Inform Everyone About Your Allergy – I'm not saying you should wrestle the mic away from the ticket agent and broadcast your allergy to the whole waiting area, but you should make sure that the ticket agents at the check-in counter and the gate know, along with one of the flight attendants when you get on the plane. That way, you can be assured that the staff is doing everything they can to make your flight safe.
Ask for An Early Boarding – If you need to wipe down your seating area or want to make sure your area is safe for you, ask the agent at the gate for an early boarding pass. They are usually more than compliant when they find out why.
When You Board
Wipe Down Everything – If you are concerned about skin or contact reaction, use disinfecting wipes to wipe down your tray, arm rests, and seat. Afterwards, make sure to wash your own hands just in case you picked up something while you were cleaning. If the seat is cloth, you might want to consider bringing a sheet to sit on. There are even some companies that make temporary seat covers for food allergy sufferers.
Tell Your Rowmates – Once again, the general public doesn't need to know every little detail or your allergy but it won't hurt to say, "Hi there. I just wanted to let you know that I had a peanut allergy. If I start acting weird or don't look right, call a flight attendant right away."
Tuck Your Medication In An Easy-To-Reach Spot – Some people tuck their epi-pens in the pocket on the seat in front of them. Others will place their medication in their shirt pocket so it's always with them. Either way, make sure that you can reach it quickly just in case you do have a reaction. You might even want to let your rowmates or flight attendants know where the medication is, just in case.
For more information about travelling with food allergies, visit the FADD website at www.foodallergy.org.