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  • Jessica Carrillo

How I Manage Travel in an Airplane

This past week, I was blessed to have gotten the opportunity to travel across the country - from California to Maine - to attend the Food Allergy Blogger's Conference. This was something I have been looking forward to for weeks.

I couldn't wait to meet people that I had talked to online, in real life, and hear what the speakers had to say about their topics. I was nervous as to what it might all be like, but mostly, I was nervous about the plane rides there and back. For someone with food allergies, riding in a plane can be quite the scary experience.

It means being in close quarters with a lot of other people, high in the air (and away from a hospital), with a lot less control than you might have in a situation on land. Flying requires lots of planning and precaution when food allergies are involved. However, while definitely nerve racking, flying on a plane with food allergies is manageable with a little extra thought. Here are some of the steps and procedures that I take while flying with all my allergies.

I research airlines ahead of time

Each airline has a bit of a different philosophy when it comes to food allergies. There are several that actually have procedures in place that help protect those with food allergies if they are notified of an allergy. But there are also several who claim that they simply can't do a thing to protect an individual with food allergies.

Not all airlines will make an announcement regarding food allergies nor will they provide a buffer zone. When choosing an airline it is important to look for the allergy statement provided on each airline's website. I have found that most allergy statements on airlines have a particularly specific section regarding nut allergies, but don't typically discuss other types of allergies. Each airline allergy statement is a bit different, and so are each individual crew.

This being said, some experiences may be better than others even within the same airline based on the flight crew. This past trip I flew Delta airlines, and I had some good experiences, but also several not so great experiences. And it was completely dependent on the crew members and how they treated me! However, since you can't predict the type of people working on your particular flight, it's best to focus on the airline itself. I have found that several blog posts on the internet are dedicated to information on allergies and airlines, and that may be helpful as well.

My least stressful plane rides have been on Jet Blue Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic Airlines. I am not necessarily suggesting these airlines for travel with allergies, because I think it is really important that you look into what works for you. These airlines are just a few that worked for me in the past, and may be a good starting point for research.

I will say, however, that the worst airline I have ever seen for food allergies was United Airlines, and I would avoid that airline if possible. Most airlines will claim that they can't garentee a completely allergy friendly flight, and this is likely because of liability reasons. But doing the extra research and even calling the airline directly can help ensure for safe travels for all. Sometimes airlines will be more accommodating than they seem online. I think the crew plays a big role. Always inform the crew before you board the plane to ensure they will help you out as well.

I try to pick an early flight, but bring baby wipes just in case

I think one of the most nerve racking parts about flying in a plane is that idea of possible cross contamination or contact exposure from the surroundings. I have to think about who might have been sitting on the seat before me, and what they might have eaten or touched. Any kind of contact with my allergens for me could potentially cause quite big issues for me.

So one of the things I have learned to do is try to book the earliest plane of the day. This is because a lot of airlines do their deep cleaning during the night when there are no passengers on board. The first flight of the day will likely be a bit cleaner and hopefully safer for those of us with allergies. But as a precaution, I also like to bring baby wipes to wipe down my seat. Usually I will be with a friend or family member when flying, and often times they will offer to wipe my seat down for me.

But bringing disposable gloves can also be an effective and safe way to manage wiping down the seats (while avoiding potential allergen contact) all by yourself. I suggest asking to pre-board so that you have some extra time to wipe down the seats before everybody else gets on. It makes things more discreet and a bit simpler. Note that not all airlines will approve pre-boarding, but even if they don't, it is still easy to wipe down your seat without the pre-board time.

I wear clothes that provide full coverage of my body

Because exposure to allergens from the surfaces of the plane are a concern for me, I have picked up the habit of wearing long sleeves and long pants when traveling by airplane. My go to outfit for a plane is typically full length leggings, tennis shoes, tank top, and a light sweater. The leggings, tennis shoes, and sweater provide coverage for most of my body, including my head if I wear the hood.

That way I feel a bit safer and less likely to touch something that might have come in contact with my allergens. My skin can be sensitive to exposure and I am less likely to develop a rash if I am covered. Plus, often times I get cold on planes anyways so wearing warm clothes also keeps me from getting too cold. This kind of outfit is comfy, and layered so that I can take my sweater off once I reach my destination if it is too hot outside.

I make sure my kit is up to date and I take precautionary medications

There is some extra level of risk when it comes to flying with food allergies, because if we were to go into anaphylaxis in the air we would have a harder time getting to a hospital. So because of that, my first step is to make sure that I have a full stock of Benadryl and both of my epipens.

My allergy kit also includes a rescue inhaler and prednisone so I make sure those are also where they are supposed to be. Always, always, ALWAYS (!!) make sure that your allergy kit is with you at all times, especially on the plane. I always carry my allergy emergency kit in my purse with me as it is, so I just bring my purse on the plane as a carry on. Often times airline crew will also want to make sure that you carry your epipen as well.

As far as taking precautionary medications, I usually take both Benadryl and prednisone about an hour to an hour and a half before the time of takeoff. Having these medications in my system at the time of the flight is just another sort of level of defense in case I am exposed to an allergen.

Taking the medication around an hour early allows for the medication to start working. It can take a pill anywhere from 15 to 30 mins to start working in the body. It isn't until about an hour in that the medication is working at its full strength. So taking it an hour early means that by the time I get on the plane I will have the most protection.

Obviously this is quite a lot of medication, and often times it does make me pretty sleepy. Typically I don't mind sleeping on the plane because it helps the time go by faster, but note that I am not a doctor so taking these medications might not be the best option for you. It would definitely be worth discussing possible medications that might work for you with your doctor if you feel like you want that extra layer of protection while flying.

I bring my own snacks and meals

The longest flight I have ever been on has been roughly five or six hours long. I haven't had the chance to fly out to Europe yet, so I haven't endured those 17 hour flights I have heard about. So as far as actual meals, I like to eat before I leave home for the airport.

I usually bring a backpack on board the plane in addition to my purse (which has my allergy kit). I pack the backpack with safe snacks that I have had before like pretzels or graham crackers. Often times, I get kind of anxious about eating on planes so I like to bring basics so that I don't have to worry quite as much about what I am eating.

This past flight, I actually brought a cup of white rice in addition to my average snacks. I brought it in a small container and ate it shortly after takeoff. It actually worked pretty well, as I didn't mind it not being super warm, and it was filling.

I also bring my own plastic silverware just because I don't typically trust the silverware that the airlines offer to be completely clean or free of my allergens. I usually just bring a plastic spoon in my backpack of snacks for the plane. I don't know if TSA would have a problem with plastic forks or knives but I figure it's best to just not even go there. I'm sure any kind of knife would be an issue and who knows about forks.

I haven't ever really had an issue with getting through security with my safe food. A lot of times I tell the TSA officers that I have epi pens, but most of the time they don't seem too concerned about it all going through the machines. It's safest to bring dry snacks just because of their rules regarding liquids. Because I can't bring in my own water bottles, often times I will look for a water bottle in one of the airport shops.

I always go for sealed water bottles versus the water offered on the actual plane because that way I can be more certain about it being free from contamination in some way. I know that several airlines serve nuts in their meals or as snacks because of the good protein values that nuts provide. So I personally just feel safer knowing what my water has touched. Also, a lot of times you can find really big water bottles in the airport, which is great for keeping hydrated. Hydration is all around important, but dehydration can also make the body more sensitive to allergens. So drink up!

I ask to pre-board and speak to the flight crew

Pre-boarding gives you more time to set up for your allergy friendly flight. Once I reach the gate for my flight, I talk to the attendants and ask about pre-boarding. I know that some people have had pretty big issues with this. There have been flights I have been on that didn't let me pre-board, and that was definitely disappointing.

But I have found that most airlines will let me pre-board if I mention I need to wipe down my seats or talk to the flight crew. If an airline doesn't let you pre-board, know that it's not the end of the world. Most pre-boarding times are pretty short anyways and it's possible to get everything done without pre-boarding.

As I walk onto the plane, I will try to discreetly tell a flight attendant about my severe allergies and ask that they not serve my allergies. Most of my flights the attendants are actually happy to take precautions like skipping the nuts just because they don't want anything to happen to me on their watch. But obviously this is not always the case. As mentioned before, researching the airline's allergy statement and calling them before booking is essential to getting the proper allergy treatment that you require.

I sit at a window seat

I always sit at the window seat of the plane because it creates a bit of a buffer between me and the cart of food that the flight crew push up and down the aisles. The last couple times I have been lucky enough to have been on flights where the crew was happy to avoid serving nuts.

However, not all flights will do this, so I like to be as far away from the food cart as possible. When I travel with friends and family, they also provide an extra buffer by sitting between me and the person on the aisle seat or the food cart. I always just feel a bit safer that way. Plus how else would I get all these cool airplane pictures?!

Flying with food allergies can be scary, but it is not impossible. I have multiple severe food allergies and I have managed just fine on several occasions. Doing your homework and taking the time to plan and prepare are essential for a safe flying experience. Be alert, be aware, and be thankful to anyone on the airline who you feel goes the extra mile to understand or protect from your allergens. Always encourage those who reach out to help!

I tried to get a pretty complete guide of the things that I do to keep myself safe on a plane, but if there are any tips you have for flying, feel free to reach out and tell me about them. It's great to learn from one another. And always, safe flying my friends!

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