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.

Still, to avoid problems and delays, it’s wise to 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 in 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.

Accessories required to keep medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols cool, such as freezer packs or frozen gel packs, are permitted through the screening checkpoint and may be subject to additional screening. These items are treated as liquids unless they are frozen solid at the checkpoint. If these 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 area and the tray. 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

Consider mentioning to those sitting close to you or your child that one of you has a severe allergy. If it is your child, try to position him or her away from other passengers (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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air travel and allergies, How to Manage Air Travel and Allergies

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