Risk-Reducing Policies Would Provide the Extra Bit of Protection Food Allergic Air Travellers Need

Mar 24

I try not to get discouraged about the “food allergy backlash.” I find such opinions — suggesting that people with food allergies, in their self-important desire to assert that they have a “special status,” are exaggerating the dangers posed by their allergies at the expense of the rights of others — sad and disturbing. In the past four years since our son was diagnosed with his nut allergies, I’ve found that most people have been as understanding and helpful to my son, and to me in my efforts to keep him safe from his allergens, as I could have ever hoped them to be.

But I am also aware that, in what seems to be an increasingly pervasive culture of entitlement, there will always be some small percentage of people with the energy and inclination only to look out for themselves, even if it means others are inconvenienced or even put at risk.

I don’t expect everyone to accommodate my son. We are learning to accept that our lives require an extra measure of advance planning, emergency preparedness, and analysis of risks and benefits. And we take responsibility for managing his food allergies and in giving him the tools to look after them himself when he is older. 

We have an emergency plan, a couple of EpiPens, and a charged mobile phone with which to call 911. We are aware of our surroundings and do our best to monitor each situation, preparing to remove ourselves if we start to feel less safe ­— a waitress who says she doesn’t believe in food allergies, a playground littered with peanut shells, a house party with candy dishes filled with mixed nuts — and knowing that, in the case of an food allergy accident, we will call 911 and use the EpiPen to buy us time until an ambulance arrives.

But, in an airplane, the emergency plan won’t work.

I don’t like to inconvenience others, but I feel strongly that air travel is one situation where the small inconvenience of limiting the consumption of the most highly allergenic foods provides a big safety benefit. On an airplane, it is crucial to have a variety of safety procedures in place — many of which have been in place for decades and some only in the past seven years or so — to provide increased safety in an environment in which access to medical care (or law enforcement, for that matter) is so limited as to be considered nonexistent.

Airlines are in the business of providing an enjoyable flight to their customers, but it seems they are scattered in their attempts to balance the needs of their food allergic passengers with the wants of the majority of the ticket-buying public (those who are not allergic). But industry-wide policies to reduce the risks for food-allergic flyers would keep the playing field level while lowering the rate of in-air medical emergencies. And I tend to believe that most people would be as understanding towards such policies as I could hope they would be.