Traveling, whether by plane, train, or automobile, always ensures an exciting adventure. Each method of travel offers its different benefits, but flying is indubitably the quickest route. However, the quickest is not always the easiest. While some people may dread flying for various reasons (fear of heights, enclosed spaces, or the unlikely event of a crash), airline travel presents additional risks for people with food allergies. 

Peanuts are a common snack offered on airlines.

Given that you spend hours enclosed in close proximity to strangers with minimal air, the risk of an airborne allergic reaction is at its peak on airplanes. 

Airborne allergic reactions could occur when a person with an allergy inhales dust or particles of their allergen. These particles can spread into the air or sit on tray tables or other surfaces in trace amounts. It is very unlikely for some to go into anaphylactic shock from this exposure. However, there is still a risk of a more mild allergic reaction like hives and difficulty breathing. 

Despite the possible dangers, there are steps you can take to handle your food allergies on a flight and arrive at your destination safely. 

Step 1: Communicate

One of the most effective methods for minimizing the risk of an allergic reaction is communication. Some airlines, including Delta and JetBlue, have boxes to check when purchasing tickets to notify them about your allergy and prepare for accommodations. Personally, my family and I also speak to the worker at the gate before boarding the plane to tell them I have a severe nut allergy and ask for permission to board the flight early. When I board early, I have the time and space to wipe down my seat, seat belt, armrest, and food tray before the flight. It is impossible to know if someone in the flight before mine ate something with nuts in my seat. Consequently, it is critical to take the precaution of wiping down my area to get rid of any remaining particles that could potentially provoke an allergic reaction due to cross-contact.

Step 2: Research the Airline

Another possible concern is the foods served by the airline flight attendants. Flying with a peanut allergy is especially dangerous, because peanuts are a popular airline-provided snack. Fortunately, many airlines are starting to accommodate peanut allergies by no longer serving peanuts on flights. Instead, they opt for other snacks such as pretzels and cookies. This does not help some with a gluten or wheat allergy, unfortunately, but other airlines are thinking of that, too! For instance, JetBlue offers 88 Acres Seed Bars, free-from the top 8 food allergens, and Goodie Girls Cookies, gluten and nut-free snacks. 

Step 3: Alert the Other Passengers

However, regardless of whether airlines serve snacks or not, there are no guarantees that the flight will be completely allergen-free. For instance, other passengers could have brought snacks onto the plane. To minimize the risk, it is a good idea to let the crew know about your allergy. The main issue with this is that there is no universal policy between airlines and even within different planes from a single airline. This makes flying much riskier because it is like rolling the dice; there is no certainty in what safety precautions the airline will take each flight.

However, airlines typically do their best to assist passengers with allergies and ensure their safety during the flight. That could range from a flight attendant informing all of the passengers on the flight of my allergy and not serving any food items with nuts to a flight attendant only telling the rows near me that I have an allergy and requesting that they refrain from eating any nuts. 

Step 4: Be Prepared for Emergencies

Lastly, it is always important to bring your epinephrine auto-injectors onto the airplane, just in case of an allergic reaction. The Federal Aviation Administration requires airlines to have vials of epinephrine administered by syringes, not epinephrine auto-injectors, on every flight. The vials and syringes take longer to administer than auto-injectors and can only be given by a medical professional. For this reason, it is best practice  to carry your own epinephrine auto-injector on flights to ensure that this life-saving medication can be administered quickly and effectively, if needed.

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