Tuesday, April 5, 2016

First Flight with Food Allergies

In July of 2015...yes, I am WAY behind...we flew to New York for our follow-up consultation with Dr. Xiu-Min Li in her private practice. In Dr. Li's private practice, the amount of time between in-person visits is based on the patient's distance and needs. Typically, the initial appointment is an in-person visit. However, we acted as "guinea pigs" and had an initial consultation via Skype. (Note: Our experiment was evidence that due to the office network and the nature of the practice, our process was not optimal, so it's not an option, anymore.)

So, this was my daughter's first flight! We flew on Southwest Airlines. I have been flying Southwest since I was a child and I love it. We also have a rewards credit card* with them, that allows us to earn points towards free flights. As much as I love Southwest, I did have a moment's hesitation over the fact that they serve peanuts on their flights. However, they grant pre-boarding authorization to those with peanut dust allergies to allow a moment for wiping the area before the other passengers board, and they will switch to a non-peanut snack for all legs of your trip.

Southwest primarily serves the...you guessed it...southwest. There are no direct flights to New York and we had to change planes in Dallas (Love Field). I actually found it comforting to know that our very first flight would be a short one, with only 41 minutes of flying time. I've been flying pretty much my whole life and I enjoy it. I think air travel is amazing and it never gets old for me. Yes, I get sleepy and bored in between flights, but I find getting in a tube and flying thousands of feet in the air nothing short of miraculous. Even though I was definitely nervous about the "great unknown" of flying with my food-allergic daughter, I did my best to focus on the positives. I was so excited to be able to share this experience with my her - to have her see the clouds out the window, see the world looking so tiny down below, to watch the planes take off and land, to watch the luggage get loaded onto the planes...everything!

I should add that being 18 months into treatment with Dr. Li, helped lessen my anxiety. I also reminded myself that this wasn't much different than the times we had visited the children's museums, though it adds a layer of stress being at 30,000 feet with nowhere to go in the event of a reaction. Even so, I felt more at ease than I might have felt pre-treatment.

I explained to my daughter that the airline was nice enough to let us get on the plane a few minutes ahead of everyone else, to give us a chance to clean our seats. She is used to me wiping down the world, so she didn't find that to be too surprising.


I packed travel Clorox wipes and a large Ziploc bag, to put my used wipes in, along with any contaminated trash. Aside from wanting to "quarantine" the wipes, I also wanted to contain their strong smell. I also packed napkins to use to dry the areas that I wiped, because we only had a few minutes before the rest of the passengers were coming in and I couldn't wait for air drying time. I had originally planned on using seat covers, but I was traveling solo and it was just too much to carry. I also doubt I would have had enough time to put them on and do the rest of my prep before the other passengers started filing in. All of the flights were completely full, so I had to prep, quickly!

Left image, above: I bought a pair of long novelty socks that I used to cover my daughter's armrests. She thought they were funny and for some reason I felt better about using them over plain white tube socks. I felt like people ended up complimenting the cuteness and saying, "good idea!" rather than looking at me like I was being overly germophobic. (The Nemo-esque neck pillow was an impulse purchase at the airport.)

Middle image, above: One thing I forgot to do on the first flight was bring plastic bag to put our carry-on items in. I wanted something between our stuff and the possibly-peanut-laden floor. In between flights, I bought some water and asked them for a plastic bag and did the same when I bought something else. After I got off each flight, I threw out the used bags.

Right image, above: For travel eating, I bought a couple of insulated food containers - one tall and one short.* In the tall one, I loaded it up with Annie Chun's Sticky White Rice* (which my daughter loves) and I put chicken nuggets in the other container. I also packed disposable covers for the tray tables.

As far as staff accommodations went, I mostly encountered amiable flight staff, though I did get one sigh and eye roll when I handed one of the flight attendants the paperwork. One other flight attendant started handing out peanut packets out of habit and got them to about 6 people before I got his attention and he was apologetic and nobody seemed to make a stink about having their peanuts exchanged for crackers. (That was a bit of an awkward moment, but thankfully nothing came of it.) We sat pretty close to the front of the plane, so I don't know if  there were any grumblings in the rows further back, though I didn't sense any. They did not make a "peanut allergy announcement" but I never saw anyone near us with their own peanuts, nor did I smell any during the flight. We did not take the first flight of the day, but all legs of our flights were still pretty clean.

Overall, the flights went well, both to and from New York, and I was relieved. It was an experience reminiscent of using the EpiPen for the first time, only in the sense that I spent lots of time dreading it, only to find that doing it wasn't dreadful as I had imagined.

We're due to make that trip, again, in a few months, so I figured I better get around to finishing this post! I always try to go into these situations armed with a smile and an obsequious manner, and I hope that the airline staff continue to be as supportive as they have been, in return, in the future.

P.S. I'd like to add a "shout out" to Lianne Mandelbaum, of NoNutTraveler.com for all her hard work in trying to make the skies "friendlier" for those with food allergies! Check out her work and support allergic passenger protection legislation if and when you can. We don't always like to have to get legal, but not everyone has had pleasant encounters and that issue cannot be ignored.

If you have any additional helpful tips, please feel free to leave them in the comments section!

*affiliate links


  1. I love the socks idea! That is not an easy area to clean.

    1. Thank you! Yes, too many nooks and crannies!