10 Food Allergy Travel Tips That Will Make You Feel Safer On A Plane
We recently took a family vacay to Ireland. I don’t know what the flights are like from where you live, but from Calgary, Canada, it isn’t a direct or easy flight. When we first considered a trip to Ireland, we were quite worried about how to deal with these long flights given our daughter’s food allergy to peanuts, tree nuts and her gluten intolerance. But my hubby and I have travelled a lot in our life and we often bring our kids too, (now that they’re a little older), so we felt like we could take on the challenge. So we booked it.
Here’s how we prepared for flying internationally with food allergies:
1. I researched several flight times and options.
After a lot of research & discussion, we decided to fly direct to London first (7-hour flight) and then fly over to Dublin from there (1.5-hour flight). We spent 2 nights in London to get accustomed to the new time and because it was less expensive to stay near Gatwick Airport than it was to stay in Dublin. We knew the days in London would be low-key so we picked a hotel right in the Gatwick airport. This ended up working great because we ended up taking a day-trip out to Brighton by the sea which was a quick 30-minute train ride from the station right at Gatwick airport.
On the way home, we again broke the flight up by heading from Dublin to London for one night, sleeping at the same airport hotel and then flying to Halifax the next morning on a direct flight. We wanted to visit Halifax and it felt like this would break the flight up a bit too. We then flew home to Calgary 3 days later.
2. I read about airborne food allergies in children.
Airborne food allergy reactions can cause a lot of stress and worry. Which is why I wanted to do some research. You can read the blog I wrote about anaphylaxis from touching a food allergen here. I also found two food allergy articles about the chances of airborne anaphylaxis. The first was from a local Allergist, Dr. Alex Lyttle and the other from Allergic Living Magazine. Of course, everyone’s comfort level is different, but I found these articles to be reassuring and helped put my mind at ease when it comes to flying and travelling with food allergies.
3. I booked our favourite allergy airline.
Whenever possible, we book airlines who are food allergy friendly, which means they’ll allow us to board early so we can do a good job of wiping down the area before sitting down. In our case, since my daughter has a severe allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, we look for an airline that doesn’t serve these when someone with these allergies is on board. An added bonus for long flights is an airline that will make an announcement asking others not to consume the allergen either. If you go this route, check out this nice idea to advocate and stay safe on the flight. For a list of airlines that may be more accommodating to food allergies, check out this list which is updated yearly by Allergic Living Magazine.
4. I researched our destination(s) to make sure our safe allergy eats would clear customs.
This can be tricky sometimes, but usually dried & processed non-meat & baked goods are ok. If you google "What kind of food can I bring into __________", and look for a government website, and/or customs you should be able to find what you need. Make sure it's a government website for accuracy.
We were able to bring two small tins of canned chicken with us, but this did cause us delays at security because the x-ray scanner flagged it and they needed to see the tins. When we arrived in UK, they said they don’t usually allow any meats (even in a can), but they still allowed it because it was for personal use and only two tins. Who knows if they will allow it next time!
We always claim whatever food we have so we won’t be charged or fined.
5. We brought our own safe allergy eats for the plane ride.
Because the flight started at around 6 pm Calgary time, we would be flying all night. We got to the airport early and had a safe dinner before boarding. We knew that there would be an option for breakfast on the plane so we planned & packed a safe breakfast meal. For us, this consisted of a safe muffin, a banana, and a yogurt (we always try to be tidy with our food to help our friends with other allergies). Then we added snacks like potato chips, fruit roll-ups and safe cookies.
We were careful to wipe hands before eating, and after a trip to the washroom to clean away any traces of allergen that my daughter might have touched along the way.
6. We made sure we wouldn't be hungry when we landed.
I wrote about a previous trip fail where we arrived at our destination RIGHT when it was time to eat, but struggled to find safe food at the airport. I was not going to do that again! This time I made sure that all of us ate on the plane so when we landed we weren’t hangry.
I've heard that some people with allergies wait until just before landing or even after arrival to eat just in case they have a reaction, they are able to get help quickly. Depending on the length of the flight and your comfort level, this might work too.
7. I researched restaurants at the destination airport.
There were no grocery stores near the airport but we wanted to have some safe options during our layover there. We had good intentions, but this ended up being a partial fail. I’ll be writing another blog post about what happened, so stay tuned! Let's just say I was happy we brought safe foods with us!
8. We travelled with our EpiPens on the plane.
We keep several EpiPens (usually about 6) in our carry on. We keep them with us so we can use them in the air if needed, but also so they don't get lost if the luggage gets lost. It would put a big damper on the trip to have to replace them in a foreign country!
9. We packed other carry-on goodies for the flight.
In addition to food, we always pack a large container of wipes to clean the seats, armrests, table trays, window shades, seatbelts and call buttons. My daughter also had her own pillow and blanket to avoid using a contaminated one, and we made sure to have our food allergy action plan.
10. Don’t forget; you have to come home.
It’s really easy to forget about the trip home when we’re packing, and sometimes you have to fly by the seat of your pants a bit (no pun intended); but I like to pack a safe pre-made meal for the flight home too. The safe pre-made meals we brought were individual oatmeal from Libre Naturals and pre-made, gluten-free mac and cheese by Annies (not sponsored).
These meals came in handy throughout our trip and I was SO glad to have them. I know they don’t work for everybody’s allergens, but if you can find even 2 different pre-made meals that work (and bring a few of each), they’ll come in handy!
Long flights can feel daunting when travelling with food allergies, but they aren’t impossible! Spending a bit of time researching, planning and packing is really important for an international (or long) flight with food allergies.
How about you? Have you flown internationally with your child with food allergies? What do you do to prepare and keep safe? If you haven’t taken a trip, do you have questions that I can help you answer? Please comment below!
Are you going on a trip soon? If so, get a packing list for kids with food allergies so you don't forget a thing!