How to Travel with Food Allergies: Tips from Experts

We all know traveling in airports can be stressful, especially during a busy time like Spring Break or the holidays. Add a food allergy on top and things could get messy. But we’ve talked to food allergy experts to give you some helpful advice to ensure a smooth ride, including tips on how to prepare for air travel, how to handle airport restaurants and best measures to take on the plane.

When you’re packing your bags…

Set your family up for success by planning ahead. “Check your medications to ensure they haven’t expired and that you have enough dosing left,” said Dr. David Stukus, an allergist and immunologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.“This should include your epinephrine auto injector, antihistamines and asthma inhalers.” Stukus also recommends updating food allergy plans before leaving and to make sure you pack them so they are handy during travel.

A new report that was published by American Academy of Pediatrics in Feb. 2017 states that epinephrine auto-injector should be used as the “first line” treatment for anaphylaxis, thus reinforcing the importance of making sure it’s readily available especially when traveling.

In addition, Eleanor Garrow-Holding, Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team (FAACT) President and CEO, recommends doing research on allergy-friendly restaurants in your airport if you plan to eat there. “[Or eat a good meal before leaving to help keep everyone full for a longer period of time,” Garrow-Holding said.

If you prefer to pack your own food, she suggests bringing a cooler packed with foods appropriate to the allergy. Keep in mind, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not allow partially melted ice or ice packs, but they do allow up to five pounds of dry ice. And remember the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has rules about which foods are permitted. Most solid food items are allowed if they are whole (think fruits and veggies), or foods stored in a container or wrapped up (think turkey sandwich and peanuts). Likewise, liquid or gel food items (like peanut butter or hummus) are also permissible if they’re under 3.4 ounces. Pick up travel-size versions at the grocery store or portion them out into small bottles at home. You can also stash larger jars in checked luggage and use the TSA website or download the app to make sure your carry-on food is good to go through security.[1]

Also, Garrow-Holding suggests traveling and eating in the airport on days and times that are typically the least busy. If you can, avoid flying during the busiest times, including weekdays from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 3:30-5:30 p.m, as well as the day or two before major holidays, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.[2][3]

When you make it to the airport…

If you’re eating there, let the restaurant server know about the allergy, Garrow-Holding suggests. “Ask to speak to the manager and/or chef so you have no doubt the kitchen has been made aware,” she said. If you feel uncomfortable or lack confidence in the staff to understand your allergy or the severity, don’t eat at that establishment.

Plus, Stukus recommends having your epinephrine easy to reach while traveling through the airport and once you settle on the plane. “And use [it] early should anaphylaxis occur after accidental ingestion,” he said.

When you’re ready for take-off…

Take a few minutes to wipe down your seat and tray table, a measure strongly emphasized by Matthew J. Greenhawt, MD, MBA, M.Sc., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Allergy Section

Children’s Hospital Colorado, University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine.

“And avoid use of airline pillows and blankets,” Greenhawt said. “If a reaction does occur, notify the flight crew to help assist in medical treatment.” It also doesn’t hurt to let the airline know about the allergy ahead of time.

Although it is possible to request that flight crews create buffer zones or refrain from serving allergen-containing foods, there is evidence showing that peanut dust does not aerosolize, peanut butter does not contain protein in vapors and surfaces can be cleaned of allergy residue, according to the Canadian Transportation Agency’s Ministerial Inquiry into Allergies to Peanuts, Nuts and Sesame Seeds in Commercial Air Travel. It remains unclear how muchairborne allergy exposure is on aircrafts.[4]

Last but certainly not least, have fun! It’s an important thing to remember over the holidays when dealing with allergies, per Stukus. “With preparation and communication with food handlers, risk of reaction can be minimized,” he said. “Don’t let your food allergies keep you from participating in activities you enjoy or spending times with loved ones this holiday season.”

[1] Prohibited Items. Transportation Security Administration. Accessed October 25, 2016.

[2] What time to be at your airline ticket counter. Accessed October 25, 2016.

[3] Airports BMA and. U.S. Holiday Travel | Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Accessed October 25, 2016.

[4] Ministerial Inquiry into Allergies to Peanuts, Nuts and Sesame Seeds in Commercial Air Travel – Report of the Inquiry Officer. Web Experience Toolkit. Published 2016. Accessed November 1, 2016.