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For people with food allergies, airline meals pose a particular risk. Many airlines will organise a special meal according to individual requirements, but mistakes can sometimes occur. Even when an airline has promised a special meal, it’s important to make sure the information has been passed on down the line. Enquire while checking in and when boarding the plane. If you want to play safe, the best advice is to take your own food.
Translation cards. Available to purchase from www.dietarycard.com, Allergy UK’s website and allergyaction.org which are free to download and print off. These will help to ensure others are made aware of your allergy despite any language barriers.
Some people with peanut allergy report that they experience symptoms when peanut snacks are handed around to passengers with their drinks. The most likely cause of these reactions is skin contact. If you touch a fold-down tray, or some other surface, that has previously been touched by a passenger eating peanuts you could have a reaction. To minimise the risk, you could carry “wet wipes” to clean surfaces as soon as you get on the plane.
Reactions caused by inhalation of peanut dust are thought to be less likely, but may sometimes occur – particularly if you are extremely allergic and the passengers sitting near you are eating peanuts. Be guided by your doctor or consultant, and your allergy history. If you know you are at the high end of the risk scale (for example, you have reacted by inhaling peanut allergen in the past) then it would be sensible to contact the airline well in advance to request that peanuts are not distributed on your flight.
The FAAA has put together the following advice:
1. Before booking your flight, read the airline’s allergy policy. Many airlines post their policy on their website. Find it by using the search function using the term "allergies" or "peanuts".
2. For individuals with peanut/nut allergy, try to choose an airline that does not serve complimentary peanut/nut snacks with the beverage service. (On advance request, some airlines will serve a non-peanut/tree nut snack such as pretzels). This will greatly decrease the risk of exposure to peanuts/nuts during the flight. Bear in mind that no airline will ever give you a guaranteed peanut or tree nut free flight.
3. When booking, notify the reservation agent of your food allergy, and ask if your information can be forwarded to other personnel such as the gate agent, catering/food service and flight crew. Re-confirm your food allergy at every opportunity with the ticket agent and again with the flight attendants.
4. For security purposes, keep your adrenaline in its original packaging and have your emergency plan with your medication. It is also recommended that you have your adrenaline prescription, and a travel plan or letter from your doctor confirming your food allergy and indicating you need to carry your medication and food/drinks with you. Wear medical identification (e.g. MedicAlert) indicating your allergies.
5. Ask the gate agent if you may pre-board the plane in order to inspect/clean your seating area. Wipe down the seat to help prevent contact reactions or inadvertent skin contact with food particles or spills. Eating food off a contaminated surface area could lead to accidental ingestion of allergens through contamination. Since some airlines are cleaned at the end of the day, consider choosing early morning flights, where the chance of seats containing crumbs or food residue is minimised.
6. Never eat airline food; pack your own. However, you may want to check with the airline to see if there are any restrictions as to which types of food you are allowed to bring on board or to your destination.
7. Always keep your adrenaline with you; do not store in the overhead locker. Let others you are travelling with know about your allergies so they know what to do in case of emergency on the flight and where your adrenaline auto-injector is.
8. Consider informing passengers sitting in your area about your food allergy. Keep in mind, however, that the airline will probably not make an announcement to the other passengers, and that passengers can eat food they have brought onto the aircraft.
9. Always be courteous and polite with the flight crew. They are there to help you and we need to help educate them without making unrealistic or unnecessary demands
10. Never take a risk, especially when in the air away from access to medical help.
The International Air Travel Association has published information for allergic passengers. Visit www.iata.org/health