Airline Travel and Food Allergies

As I plan our family vacation to Maine this summer, I am thinking a lot about travel and food allergies.  Our upcoming trip is a road-trip but last January, I traveled with the kids to Florida by airplane.  I was surprised that nut products are still served on-board and that there are no restrictions on passengers with regards to the snacks they carry-on.  Sure enough, my daughter (who was 3 at the time and couldn't keep her hands off everything!) broke out into hives on her hands and face.  When my mother met us at the airport after the flight she could not believe the reaction my girl had just from coming into skin contact with allergens.

I have just written the following email to a representative at Air Canada (I will keep you posted on the response):

Dear Sir,

My name is Melissa Scheichl (f.Pearson) and I run a website called where I offer advice for parents of children with severe allergies and/or anaphylaxis.  

I am currently writing an article for the site on Food Allergies and Travel and am hoping to get the most current information from you regarding how Air Canada plans to accommodate and ensure the safety of travellers with these types of allergies. 

On a recent flight to Florida, my daughter broke out in hives all over her face and hands after boarding the plane. She is allergic to milk, egg and nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios and peanuts to name a few)...   Her allergies are so severe that even skin contact is dangerous for her.   Ingestion could be fatal.  After eating one bite of a product that contained almond, my daughter was rushed to emergency with life-threatening anaphylaxis.  

Epi-pens last for approximately 10 minutes, so when I travel I pack 4 or 5 to bring on the plane along with Benadryl.  It is terrifying as a parent to imagine what could happen if my daughter suffered a reaction while we were in the air that required medical attention.   I would like to know what the protocol would be in that case and what plans are being made to reduce the risk of cross-contamination on the plane from other passengers who may have eaten  foods that are unsafe to others.

I believe my daughter reacted after touching the television screen and hand-rests on the plane.  For future travel I plan to bring lanolin wipes that destroy protein to wipe down her seat and surfaces that she will be in contact with.   As  mentioned on the Air Canada website, there still lies the risk of the fabric and foods falling in the cracks of the seat and on the carpeting.   It would be beneficial if the planes had wipeable seating and flooring so that this was an easier issue to deal with.

I have heard rumours of Nut-free sections and would like confirmation about this.  Unfortunately, inhaled allergens can be a problem and even 1/70 000th of a peanut can illicit a reaction in a food allergic person.   It is my personal opinion that peanuts and tree nuts should be banned completely from the planes and passengers' snacks could be checked as they board just as containers with liquids are).  This is what schools are now doing all across the country and it would not be a surprising policy to most travellers.

The prevalence of allergies is rising at a dramatic pace and it would be horrible to wait for a tragedy before dealing with the reality of the need to accommodate Food Allergic passengers.

Thank you,

Melissa Scheichl

Here is what Air Canada currently has on their website regarding travel with Food Allergies on their planes:

Please write to your MP to enable Motion 546 to be passed at the House of Commons this Fall.  Awareness of the severity of Anaphylaxis and Food Allergies is an important first step towards future legislation to protect our allergic children. 

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