5 ways to make air travel safer for allergic passengers

Now that summer is done you may be starting to think of fall or winter getaways. Travelling has been top of mind for me too over the past few weeks. My social media news feeds, which are skewed heavily towards allergy related stories, have been buzzing with news about two young girls that came close to losing their lives because of anaphylactic reactions to nuts while travelling on airplanes.

The first case in early August appeared to be a result of bad timing. The 4 year old girl had no history of any food allergies and had her first allergic reaction to nuts during a flight from Dublin, Ireland to Newark, New Jersey. Luckily there was an allergy specialist on board that was able to administer epinephrine which gave them time to turn the plane back so the little girl could be treated in hospital. This same family appeared in media again later in the month when they were removed from their return flight because United refused to ban nuts or provide a nut-free buffer.

The second case occurred in mid-August. Fae Patton, a four year old with a known peanut allergy, had an anaphylactic reaction and stopped breathing when a passenger sitting four rows away opened his peanut snack after multiple announcements requesting passengers to refrain from eating nuts on board. Thankfully, the family was carrying her Epipen and a paramedic on board administered it.

These stories initially left me with a sense of helplessness and fear, but as the weeks passed it became more apparent that the airline industry needs to change, and we all have the power to help make it happen.

1. Support lobbies for safer flights and reducing risks for anaphylactic passengers

In Canada, the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative has a Proposed Allergy Protocol for Airlines to reduce the risk for Anaphylactic Passengers (Anaphylaxis Awareness Motion 230). We can all help by:

In the United States, nonuttraveler.com is lobbying for safer flights and has an online petition that you can sign to support this movement.

2. Tell your elected officials how important safer flights are to you and your family

Write. E-mail. Phone. Tell them your story and concerns at public events, or at their office. Public officials are always interested to know what’s important to their constituents:

  • Tell them how important safe air travel is to your family.
  • Talk about some of your challenges in trying to keep your loved ones safe.

3. Be proactive and communicate with your airline before travelling

Some airlines already have allergy policies, but need advance notice in order to fulfill them. Call the airline at least one week before your flight or work with your travel agent to make sure the air crew knows about your allergies and any special requirements.

4. Provide constructive feedback to airlines after travelling

Every time you travel, send the airline your feedback. Airlines need to know that there are passengers travelling with allergies and they need to be told whether they are failing, meeting or exceeding client expectations. Customer service usually deals with complaints, but it’s just as important to show upper management your appreciation for individuals that went above and beyond airline policies to ensure you or loved ones were safe. Make sure any complaints you have come with recommendations and suggestions on how to improve customer experience. This kind of feedback may help shape future policies.

5. Share your story

After contacting the airline, share your experience and tell your story to others so that people can learn from it. The families of the two young girls decided to share their stories with the media, which created a flurry of discussion about nuts and travel safety.

Share your air travel stories in the comments below. What’s the worst thing that happened to you or your loved ones while travelling on airplanes with food allergies? Have you had any positive experiences? Do you have any advice for people travelling with food allergies?