Flying with food allergies: the secrets to doing it safely

Here's the good news: flying with food allergies is statistically fairly safe.

study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that out of 744 million passengers, there were only 265 reported allergic reactions (although many may go unreported). Only 12 required the airline to be diverted, 40 needed transport to a hospital and only 8 were admitted.  Anaphylactic or airborne reactions onboard are still very rare.

However, this may be down to the many precautions allergy sufferers take. Unfortunately there are still no legal requirements for airline allergy policies and many travelers find an inconsistent approach. So whenever you are flying, it is important to take some simple steps to keep you safe throughout your journey.

Check airline policies

There is no legal requirements or industry wide policy about provisions for food allergies on planes. Some do not serve nuts as standard and many will make announcements, create a buffer zone or allow pre-boarding but it is important to check the individual airline's policy. Airlines still show little understanding of non-nut allergies so it can me more difficult to get provision for these. Some airlines are known to often make announcements even if it is not their official policy to do so it is important to read reviews from other allergy travellers. If you are flying in USA, this is a useful comparison chart from Allergic Living

Carry medication

Always carry your allergy medicine and adrenalin injectors with you in your hand luggage. It is easy to distil your anthistamine into a smaller container under 100ml but larger bottles are allowed for medical purposes. Most security staff will not question your medication but it is useful to have a current prescription list with you or a note from the doctor, in case of any disputes. There have been some stories about people being removed from flights due to their allergies so it can be worth carrying your doctor's details or a 'fit to fly' note, just in case.


Inform the staff

Tell the staff about your allergies when you are booking your flight or when you are checking in. Some will reliably pass this on to the ground staff but it is always advisable to reiterate it when you board the plane. Ask for the reasonable accommodations you want -whether that is pre-boarding, an announcement, or them to stop serving nuts. It is a good idea to have a copy of the airline policy with you in case you meet any resistance. If they are unwilling to make any accommodations, and don't have a policy of doing so, remain calm and remember it is more important that you take your own precautions.

Clean your area

Always carry wipes with you and use them to clean the tray table, arm rests, chair backs and seat belts. A study in the Journal Of Allergy And Clinical Immunology identified eight key steps for minimising the risk of allergic reactions on planes. These included wiping your table and not using the airline's pillows and blankets. One of the study's authors, Dr Greenhawt, says the risk of an airborne reaction is very low and most non-ingested reactions are from touching contaminated surfaces. However, if you have a known airborne allergy or are concerned, then discuss the risks with your allergist.

Take your own food

There are not many great options when it comes to allergy-friendly airline meals. You may be able to find dairy free or even nut-free meals but it is difficult if you are dealing with multiple allergies. It is always hard to trust anyone serving you food but especially when medical assistance is so far away. The easiest and safest thing to do is take your own. Remember, there are restrictions on liquids and some fresh produce so it is best to stick to simple staples. Make sure you take more than you think you need in case you are delayed or diverted.

5 more tips for a safe flight

  1. Take an early flight as the plane will likely be freshly cleaned

  2. Tell people seated near you about your allergy

  3. If you are travelling alone, tell the staff where your medication is

  4. Wash your hands after touching doors or other areas of the plane

  5. Say thankyou to helpful staff so they are happy to help their next food allergic passengers

What are tips for flying with food allergies? Have you had any good or bad experiences?

FlyingKortney Kwong Hing