Traveling with Food Allergies
Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, careful preparation can make your trip safe and enjoyable. As always, communication is key.
When making special requests, give as much lead time as you can to trip organizers and airline, hotel, and restaurant staff. Bring a kit with all your medications, including antihistamine, extra autoinjectors, and copies of your emergency medical plan. Let your doctor know you’re traveling, and ask if he’ll be available to fax or call in a prescription for additional autoinjectors should you need them.
On The Plane
Always check the latest rules about what you can carry onboard. There may be different regulations for domestic and international flights. To know before you go, visit TSA.gov.
Just as you compare carriers for the most reasonable airfares, it’s also important to find out how accommodating they are to people with food allergies. It’s a good idea to make your reservations directly with the airline – rather than booking through an agent or online – so there’s no confusion later on.
Explain your situation clearly and politely. If you or your child has a peanut allergy, ask if the airline can serve pretzels rather than peanuts on your flight. And ask if it’s possible for the flight attendants to vacuum the area where you will be sitting before anyone boards the plane. This is helpful in case peanuts were served on previous flights. Try to get all communications in writing (ask for faxes, and print out email communications). Confirm and reconfirm, and keep a record of each person you spoke with.
Before booking your stay, call and speak to a hotel manager or director and explain the accommodations you require.
Check in early so you can speak to representatives at the gate as soon as possible. After you have checked in, explain your situation to the gate agent, who can then remind the flight crew about it. Once you board the plane, remind the head flight attendant as well.
Keep an eye on small children with allergies. Even if flight crews clean the area where a child is sitting, food often falls into cracks and spaces not reachable by a vacuum. If children reach for a toy they dropped or are curiously exploring the plane, they risk coming in contact with a hidden danger. Bring wet wipes to wipe down the seat, armrests, window areas, seatbelt clasps, and tray table where you’ll be sitting.
Bring extra medications and carry them with you at all times. When flying, you should always bring extra doses of your autoinjector. Bring a letter for carrying self-injectable epinephrine, signed by your doctor, which will allow you to bring your medication onboard. Keep your medical kit under your seat – if you should need it during your flight, you won’t have to struggle to get it out of the overhead bin.
Bring your own food and pack extra in case flights are delayed. Even if peanuts aren’t served as a snack, the other meal or snack options might contain offending ingredients. It’s best to bring a container of foods that you know are safe to eat.
Research local restaurants where you will be staying. Call ahead and ask to speak to a manager about your needs, fully explaining how dangerous your or your child’s food allergies can be. Can the eatery accommodate you without a risk of cross contamination? Will the person you spoke with be at the restaurant while you’re there? If not, ask for the name of the staff member who is aware of the circumstances.
Let your doctor know you’re traveling, and ask if he’ll be available to fax or call in a prescription for additional autoinjectors should you need them.
If all else fails, ask the restaurant if it is possible for you to bring your own bag of pasta for them to boil. It may not be the most memorable meal you’ve ever had, but at least you’ll be able to enjoy being with family, friends, or colleagues.
Remind a manager or the head waiter about your allergies before you are seated. Present your server with a copy of your food allergy restaurant card so that he or she can share it with the chef. If the wait staff doesn’t seem to understand your situation, always trust your gut and seek out another staff member or manager. In fact, there may be times when the safest choice is to not eat there at all.
Before booking your stay, call and speak to a hotel manager or director and explain the accommodations you require. Try to speak to the same resort manager every time, but make sure that other management is aware of the situation. Find out if the resort has a doctor or nurse on site and if they’re available full time.
Ask that every restaurant, café, snack shop, etc., be made aware that a guest with food allergies is staying on the premises. (However, it is still your responsibility to make your server aware of your food allergies every time you dine.)
Don’t assume that just because one eatery at the location has “safe” food, that they all do. Ask about ingredients and preparations at every restaurant, café, and snack shop every time. Even if you’ve stayed at a resort before and had a safe experience, many things may have changed since your last visit. Take precautions as if this were your first visit.
Find out if there are local doctors in the area who specialize in allergy treatment. Will they be able to write you a prescription for additional autoinjectors or medications if you need them? Where is the closest hospital?
Ask your doctor to write a prescription that you can carry with you. Learn the generic and brand names in the countries you’ll be visiting. Ask for recommendations for restaurants, hotels, and activities. Does your doctor treat others who have had good experiences at certain places?
Bring several copies of your authorization of emergency treatment, emergency medical plan, and food allergy restaurant cards in both English and the language of the countries where you will be. Make sure they are with you at all times.
Language barriers can be tough to deal with, but chances are there is someone who speaks English working at the hotel. With many Internet translation services available, email can be an effective way to correspond.
Bring non-perishable food that is safe for you to eat. Dried pasta and allergen-free snack bars are good options. Don’t assume that the same products manufactured in other countries will contain the same ingredients.
Reprinted by the permission of Food Allergy Initiative from faiusa.org, copyright © 2012 Food Allergy Initiative. All rights reserved.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, July/August 2012.