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  • Gayle Rigione, Allergy Force

Air Travel and Food Allergies: The Flight Plan

Days are getting longer and the school year is winding down. June is just around the corner. For many, this will mean family vacations to places near or far to change up the routine, catch a breath and infuse some fun into lazy summer days.


People are overdue for time away and hungry to change up their space and place, covid or no covid.


AAA forecasts that over 39 Million people will travel this Memorial Day weekend, reaching 92% of the 2019 pre-pandemic level. The AAA forecast for travelers opting into air travel this Memorial Day is 7.7% of total travelers, exceeding the 2019 pre-pandemic level.


If you choose to fly — on top of navigating the inherent challenges of air travel PLUS negotiating ever changing covid requirements — the need to manage food allergies enroute adds an additional layer of complexity.


And honestly? After two covid-restricted years of staying closer to home? We're out of practice.


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A recent trip overseas with my family underscored just how out of practice we are, and the importance of some food allergy travel strategies. Sharing some takeaways from this recent travel experience while it's still fresh and top of mind:


Flying direct, without layovers.


Unfortunately, because we booked {very, very} late, we were unable to score a direct flight to our final destination. Not only was our trip much longer, we also had to negotiate two rounds of boarding, two different flight crews and two rounds of settling into assigned seating. Being groggy and out of sync with the time zone during a layover didn't help either. When you're sleep deprived, patience wears thin quickly, it's hard to think clearly, and you sometimes overlook important details.


Packing extra emergency medication and keeping all of it close at hand in carryon luggage.


Beyond the possibility of needing to use emergency medication in flight, there is also the risk that checked baggage goes AWOL. This trip our checked baggage did not make it to our final destination when we did. It trailed our arrival by another 18 hours.


Not eating anything in the airport or on the plane that didn't come from home.


Even if you're tempted to try and find something to eat at the airport during a layover, don't. Pack a sufficient quantity of safe food in your carryon luggage. Don't be tempted to sample food in the airport or on the plane, even if your safe foods from home become rather travel worn as you get closer to your destination.


For example, even though the eateries at our layover airport provided allergen information, there were disclaimers on the allergen disclosures that gave cause for pause, the food offerings were crammed into crowded display cases, and the counter staff was rushed, frazzled. The risk of cross contact was high, high, high — definitely not worth the risk.


Sanitizing your hands.


Carry extra hand wipes and hand sanitizer and minimize contact with surfaces in the airport and on the aircraft. Use your hand sanitizer and wipes. Generously. Frequently.


Pre-boarding.


You need to sanitize your seating area. Make sure you travel with a good supply of surface wipes. You never know who sat in your seat on the previous flight, or what they ate, or what food missed their mouth and landed in their lap, or what they touched. Residue happens. Crumbs happen. Touchscreen monitors, arm rests, seat belts and buckles, the seats themselves, seat pockets, tray tables, window ledges, crew call buttons, overhead bin latches — all are fair game for a thorough wipe down.


Making friends & allies along the way.


Try to gain the support of the gate and flight crews. Try to make them allies who will work with you, help you. Not all gate and flight crews are willing allies, so be ready to tap deeply into your reserves of calm and diplomacy to achieve goals. Ignore unsolicited commentary from other passengers, as best you can.


Being prepared to explain your food allergies in the language spoken at your final destination.


Keep tools to explain your allergies in different languages within easy reach at all times, whether it's a written explanation you've had translated by a native speaker, a pre-printed wallet card or an app. No need to get fancy here. Accuracy, thoroughness, as well as brevity are important.


Some resources for you.


1. FAACT, FARE and Allergy Force offer travel resources at their websites, from important tips to planning checklists. Don't reinvent the wheel when you don't have to.


2. Glean solid travel advice from intrepid food allergic travelers before you go. The No Nut Traveler (Lianne Mandelbaum), Miss Allergic Reactor (Allie Bahn), and The Zestfull (co-founded by Kortney Kwong Hing and Shahla Rashid) are extremely knowledgeable about international travel with food allergies. The Allergy Travels FB Group is another great resource. From surly flight crews, to baggage handler wildcat strikes, to no-show luggage, to opaque & variable covid requirements, to flight delays — bumps in the road happen when you travel abroad.


3. Make sure the food you plan to carry on the plane complies with TSA regulations for food.


4. Stay mindful as you travel, even if you're beyond tired from lack of sleep and drastic time zone changes. The Allergy Force Flight Strategies Guide provides a checklist that can help you stay focused to stay safe on your travel day.


5. We've traveled with copies of a written explanation we wrote that we translated with the help of fluent friends, teachers and hotel staff. You can also find wallet cards at Equal Eats to explain your allergies, cross contact risk and other dietary restrictions in 50 languages. Apps can help, too. The Allergy Force food allergy app offers a downloadable digital chef card that is free and flexible. It explains food allergies and cross contact in 21 languages. Whether you go low tech or high tech doesn't matter. Just be equipped to communicate clearly.



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Anthony Bourdain once said, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”


Take this one to heart and journey safely, journey well, leave something good behind and return with stories to tell.


Happy Memorial Day! Happy Summer!


 
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About the Author: Gayle Rigione is CEO of Allergy Force, the food allergy app. She’s also an allergy mom. She’s lived the heart stopping moments when her son ate the wrong thing, second guessed reactions and raced to the ER. These experiences inspire her to create tech tools for people with food allergies. Whatever you do, do it with a full heart. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat


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Image Credit: Burhanuddin Abuwala on Burst