Traveling with Food Allergies

Last month, I planned a trip back home for the summer. This trip translates to 9 hours of flying with 1 stop and a 3 hour layover in between. I know: Exhausting!

A week before the trip, I started feeling extremely anxious about flying because my children have food allergies. I have traveled with my kids before, but this time it was different. Since last time, Paulo has developed a dairy allergy and Penny’s allergies have become more severe. At this point, I know exactly what I have to do before flying in order to prevent an allergic reaction: check airline allergy policies, call the airline, bring extra medication and epinephrine auto-injectors, pack allergy-friendly snacks, pack wipes and bring allergy allert wristbands. We have traveled with Delta before and they have been very accomodating with food allergies, so I decided to book our flight with them. To see their peanut allergy policy click here.

Once at the gate, I informed the airline staff  about Penny’s peanut allergy. To my surprise, they had it on the passenger’s list and had already informed the flight crew. We were able to pre-board and wipe down our seats, eating tray tables and window. When it was time for the crew to serve snacks, an announcement was made- they said that they were not going to serve any peanut products due to a passenger’s peanut allergy. However, they didn’t ask other passengers to refrain from eating peanuts. According to a flight attendant it was because they ” couldn’t stop anyone from eating any peanut products on-board”. Luckily, our first flight was smooth: no allergic reactions! 🙂

We got to our first destination and layover: N.Y. At the airport, Penny started coughing and sneezing. Later on, her eyes turned red and became very itchy. I was 100% sure that she hadn’t ingested any allergens, so I proceeded to give her benadryl. About an hour later she looked like she was feeling better: coughing had subsided and she was barely scratching her eyes.

When the layover was almost over and it was time to board the plane, I proceeded to tell the airline staff about the allergy and went on to pre-board and wipe down our area. Again, the airline refrained from serving any peanut products. However, this time there was no announcement made. Two hours into this flight, Penny’s allergy started to get worse. She had nasal congestion, started sneezing again, her eyes became itchy and started to swell up. To my knowledge, Penny has never experienced an anaphylactic reaction, so everytime she starts showing any sign of an allergic reaction, I get anxious. I kept observing her closely- I had given her benadryl a few hours before and it wasn’t time to giver her a second dose.

She hadn’t eaten any dairy or peanut products, which lead me to belive that her allergy was, in this case, a cause of “environment pollution”. Meaning that there were enough peanut particles in the air to cause an allergic reation. At one point, one of her eyes was almost swollen shut, so I talked to the flight attendant, explained what was going on and told her that if things didn’t take a turn for the better anytime soon, I was going to use the EpiPen. What worried me the most was not knowing if her breathing was affected. The flight attendant asked for a Doctor on board, there was none. Lucky for us, there was a medical student sitting right in front of us and was able to listen to Penny’s lungs with a stethoscope. She was able to confirm that Penny’s lungs were not wheezing. This helped me calm down a bit.
We still had about an hour and a half of flight left and we were in the middle of the ocean, which meant that there was no way that the pilot could’ve made an emergency landing if it was necessary. Instead, they contacted a hospital, where a Doctor instructed me to give her a second dose of benadryl. Those were the longest hours that I’ve ever lived. I felt so scared, helpless, lonely and desperate. Thankfully, the airline crew was wonderful: they kept checking on us constantly and offered a great amount of support.

The second dose of benadryl “hit the spot”. Consequently the swelling started to slowly go down and you could tell that Penny was starting to feel better. As soon as the airplaine landed, I called Penny’s allergist and explained the situation. He told me that since she had not eaten the allergen, I should just keep observing her and if she showed any signs of breathing distress, then I should use the EpiPen and take her to the nearest ER. When we got off the airplane, the airline had arranged for EMTs to check on Penny. Later that day, she was seen by a pediatrician in my hometown who started her on cortizone and by next day you couldn’t see any allergy signs.

Up to this day, I still ask myself what went wrong. I wonder if there were enough peanut particles in the air from the previous flight or if someone in our flight was eating any peanut products. Did I wipe our seats and table trays correctly? Was this an inevitable incident? These questions and a lot of other ones remain unanswered. However, I have the satisfaction that I did everything that could’ve been done and that at the end Penny was fine.

On the other hand, I ask myself: What are certain airlines waiting to completely eliminate peanuts on all of their flights? I wonder how important is an “inconvenience” over a persons life. My children don’t have a choice- their lives depend on it. It’s not fair to put someone’s life at risk over a bag of peanuts. Let’s have some empathy and support people with food allergies. Help me create awareness in order to achieve a change. It’s time to make a change and help people stay safe!

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