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.
You should 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 seek a flight that doesn’t sell or serve peanuts by contacting the airline well in advance.
The response of the airlines
Some airlines have removed peanut snacks altogether from certain classes of flight. Others will withdraw them from specified flights if they are contacted well in advance. Others will not withdraw them under any circumstances. If possible, contact the airline you plan to fly with well in advance and find out their policy. If you succeed in booking a ‘peanut friendly’ flight, seek confirmation when you check in.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are among those airlines that have removed peanut snacks from certain classes of flight but check that this is still their policy.
Although airlines tend to focus on the possible risk from peanuts, other foods must not be neglected. The steam from certain cooked foods (e.g. fish and shellfish) has been known to trigger reactions. If you are allergic to fish or shellfish, you may be concerned that meals served to other passengers may cause you problems.
The mother of girl who is allergic to fish and fish vapour says:
Air travel has always been difficult for us. Problems arise when hot fish meals are served on flights, usually medium to long haul flights. I have spoken to our allergist and we are of the view that although we don’t know how my daughter will react, we cannot afford to take a chance at 33,000 feet. We therefore adopt the following approach:
- At the time of booking, we ask what type of meal is usually served in economy on that route. If fish is served in economy, the concentration of fish vapour is obviously much greater, as is the likelihood of sitting next to a passenger eating fish. In those circumstances, we would find another flight.
- Because menus change constantly, we call a few days before departure to find out what the airline is planning to serve.
- We then check again at the check-in desk and once again at the gate, as last minute substitutions can occur.
We have had to change flights in the past at each of the above stages, including at the gate, where a last minute salmon meal was introduced.
I think that short haul flights on budget airlines, where meal preparation and service are kept to a minimum, offer the best option for fish allergy sufferers. It is obviously very difficult to plan longer trips where timing is crucial (we have missed part of a family celebration).