Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Flying Delta With A Peanut Allergy

After much consideration and many hours of research on the internet, we decided to take our allergic 3 year-old son on a trip to Hawaii. He is allergic to too many foods to list here. Suffice it to say that he is anaphylactic to peanuts.

Due to various circumstances, we had to fly Delta. Unlike United, Continental, and American Airlines (click to read about their peanut allergy policy), Delta still serves packaged peanuts on their flights. After reading their policy in regard to peanut allergy, we called two weeks in advance and notified them about our son's special needs. The agent we spoke to confirmed the guidelines, entered our son's medical info in their computers, and recommended we notify the gate agents before boarding.

Which is exactly what we did. In addition to this precaution, I boarded every one of the four planes we took a few minutes before my son boarded, so I could wipe down the seat carefully and inspect the area around it. That proved to be a good idea, because two out of four flight segments, I found peanuts on the floor.

An hour into the second flight (SLC-HNL), the flight attendants started serving refreshments. We spoke to them, too, and informed them about our son's allergy. They said they had no idea, the gate agents had not communicated the information to them. So they offered the buffer zone, per airline policy. Unfortunately, they forgot about it when they came around a second time. The flight attendant I had spoken to directly offered peanuts to the passenger seated right in front of me, who kindly reminded her about the boy with peanut allergy. The other flight attendant offered peanuts to my husband, seated next to my son. I was outraged at the time, but in retrospect I wonder if the flight attendants made mistakes because of poor communication or insufficient training in regard to peanut allergies.

On our way back, it proved to be a bit simpler since we took a red-eye out of HNL. People don't snack too much (if at all) at night. The flight attendant appreciated that we let her know, because once again the gate agent had not mentioned anything about my son. We were guaranteed the buffer zone and this time they took it seriously.

Overall, it was stressful experience but I'm happy to report that our son did OK. The last two hours of the SLC-HNL flight, he coughed incessantly. As soon as he got off the plane though, he felt fine. I don't know if he reacted to peanut dust or just poor air quality on the plane.

What I learned form this experience:

- Communicate. A lot. With the airline before the flight, with the gate agents, and with the flight attendants AS SOON as you get on the plane.

- Clean the seat and the surrounding area. It takes a few good minutes to do a thorough job, since the seats are unbelievably dirty. Any type of wet wipes will do (thanks Jenny Kales, who kindly enlightened me about this). I used Huggies baby wipes and it took 5-6 wipes each time (for my son's seat, the back of the seat in front of him, and the window area).

- Airplane seat covers are available for purchase from Plane Sheets. I have not purchased one yet, and I'm afraid they might not work on all airplanes. We flew a Boeing 767 with entertainment screens on the back of the seats. A seat sheet might partially cover the screen of the person behind you.

- Have various safe snacks. Plan on more than you think is enough. It's amazing how kids can get an appetite at the most unexpected times, especially when bored on a plane.

- If you have an airplane-approved car seat and it is not too inconvenient to bring it aboard, do it. We had ours on a previous (shorter) flight to California and the stress levels were way lower. It is familiar, it is clean, and the child can't easily unbuckle and hop off to explore the airplane floor. As big and bulky as ours is (we have a Britax Roundabout), I would bring ours again.

- Vacation in places that require shorter flights for less stress and increased security. 4 hours to California (including layover) vs. 11 hours to Hawaii (again, with layover)? As much as I love Hawaii, I'd choose California in a heartbeat. At least if you need an emergency landing in case of anaphylaxis, it can be done.


  1. I'm glad that your son did well on your flight to Hawaii, Renata. I'll be traveling internationally in June (my first flight since developing food allergies!) I'm hoping and praying that my trip coordinator does not choose Delta, because I'm anaphylactic to peanuts as well, and that would not be good on a LONG flight! Quick question: How much food can you bring on board with you (for safe snacks)? I don't plan on eating the in-flight meals, just to be on the safe side.

  2. Thank you, Lindsay.
    You can bring as much food as you can fit in your carry-on. No beverages, of course. You can have your Epi-Pens with you (keep it in your purse under the seat in front of you, not in the overhead compartment) and whatever other anti-histaminic you use. We had a 4oz bottle of Loratadine and it was exempt from the 3oz rule. It is always a good idea to have either a letter from your doctor, explaining your condition, or the medication labels/printouts from the pharmacy with your name on them, just in case the TSA agents are not familiar with the medication (especially when outside the US).

    I'd be happy to answer any other questions that you might have while planning for your trip.

  3. Thanks for the info about the food! I got the doctor's letter, prescription print-outs, etc. today! While I was there, I noticed your sign for the meeting on the 2nd. It was posted in my doctor's office waiting room. :)

  4. Good for you! Prepare as much as you can and you'll have a great trip.
    Thanks for letting me know about the flier. I'm so glad they posted the info.