Flying with Food Allergies

This guest post by Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member Hadley Husisian addresses the concerns she has as a traveler with nut allergies. This is part of a series addressing a variety of experiences and food allergies from FARE’s TAG members.

Hadley Husisian

This summer, Southwest Airlines, an airline commercially known for its peanut snacks, announced that it would no longer serve peanuts on board so that all customers could feel safe as they travel. As a nut-allergy sufferer, I was ecstatic that Southwest made this groundbreaking decision. However, as someone who has flown hundreds of times over the last few years, I worry that this decision solves only part of the problem.

Because I am a competitive fencer, I travel to tournaments across the United States several times a month. Each time, I have always made sure to give my peanut allergy card to the flight attendant so that no peanut snacks are served. Often, the airline makes a public announcement that there is a customer onboard with a severe nut allergy and that no peanut snacks will be served on that particular flight.

At least a third of the time, a passenger will boo loudly at this announcement. Other passengers sometimes will join the booing or complain loudly about the lack of peanut snacks. I was very young when I began travelling and felt uncomfortable when adults booed at something that had been caused by my health conditions.

As a teenager now, I still don’t understand why many passengers feel that it is acceptable to voice their displeasure so openly and loudly. If a passenger in a wheelchair needed extra time to board, would others feel it is permissible to boo and complain that this person’s disability inconvenienced their trip? Food allergies are a disability as well, and one that can be life threatening.

I also am disheartened by how many passengers will then consume their own nut snacks despite the airline’s announcement. Once, a man sitting next to me pulled out a large plastic baggie of pistachios less than a minute after the announcement and began eating, dropping some of the shells on my lap before my parents could stop him. I wish I could say that this was the only time that something like this has happened. There are other similar situations where this has happened to people with other kinds of food allergies as well.

On my most recent flight, a woman boarding behind us noticed my mother wiping down the seats and trays with a disinfectant wipe. The woman loudly told the flight attendant, “I guess I won’t be able to eat the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich I brought.” I felt uncomfortable again, but was grateful that she chose not to eat the sandwich. Many others would not have made the same decision.

When people with food allergies fly, they are trapped in an airplane careening along at 30,000 feet with no access to emergency help. I have been hospitalized for anaphylactic shock in the past. I can imagine how awful it would be to feel my throat closing, my face and lips swelling, and to be gasping for air when there is no chance of receiving emergency medical help. When I fly, I like to snack on Fig Newtons and look forward to them each time. However, if I were told that someone on my flight could potentially die due to exposure to my food, I would choose not to eat my snack without a second thought. I wish all airline passengers readily would do the same for other passengers with food allergies.

Member for

48 years 9 months

Submitted by Harvey (not verified) on Sun, 09/23/2018 - 00:17

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As a fellow peanut allergy sufferer, I have had problems, even on flights where peanuts are not served, especially later in the day flights, where peanuts have been served on earlier flights.
I carry a dust mask for flights, which can sometimes help , at least a little.
On the last few flights have been on I've been asked by the flight attendants, if they could serve almonds or cashews, which though I'm allergic, it is not like peanuts...but of course people sitting in my section of the plane weren't served almonds or cashews.. I glad Hadley Husisian enjoys Fig Newtons , but I'm allergic to them as well as peanuts!

Member for

48 years 9 months

Submitted by giulia gallo (not verified) on Sun, 09/23/2018 - 03:20

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Dear Hadley and all current TAG members,
I wish I had a solution to this problem! We have all seen how insensitive passengers can be and how uncomfortable it can be for us with severe anaphylactic nut allergies to fly. By now we also have seen what airlines really take care of us, and those that do not go out of their way to make us feel safe. I wanted to comment because I am flying a lot now for my job, and traveling to countries I never thought would have been possible when I was in the TAG group myself many years ago. This includes a massive amount of international travel- a lot of times where I do not know the language- and some really long flights. Sometimes it can be really scary. I've developed some strategies to keep myself safe even when I cannot control what airline I am flying or what the passengers do. I always tell the flight team of my condition and show them where my medication is (even if we don't have a common language). I disinfect the seats with wipes- and when there are obvious nut shells on my seat or under my seat I ask for help cleaning it up. I also wear a pollution mask in case passengers start eating nuts around me, and I only ever eat the food I have prepared myself. Even if that means going without food for many hours on long flights! I have now flown many times next to those eating nuts or on planes where nuts have been served. It makes me terribly anxious and it really sucks. But with my mask on, and if I do not eat, I know I will not go into shock in the air. For my really remote jobs, my allergist also has prescribed me prednisone to supplement my epi-pens in case anything does happen or until we can land and get to medical help.
I know it is scary, and I know it would not take much from others to make flying easier and safer for us! It is so frustrating. I think I feel compelled to write because when I was a teen I would not think that I could have my dream job that involved such heavy travel and so many planes. And you know very well what I'm talking about- you are flying a lot as well! So all in all I am proud of us for getting on those flights.
Safe travels!

Member for

48 years 9 months

Submitted by Stella (not verified) on Sun, 09/23/2018 - 14:03

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OIT has given us the freedom to travel without worry. I highly recommend consulting with an OIT allergist as they can desensitize 90% of food allergy patients in private practice. You can find an OIT doctor by googling OIT101.
That being said, of course we still fully support those who choose avoidance.

Member for

48 years 9 months

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