Air Travel and Food Allergies

Yesterday, the food allergy community boards became very active over British Airways announcement that they will now tell people they can not consume peanut and peanut products on board. This is being hailed as a huge victory for the food allergy community.While this is a step in the right direction, the focus really should not be on removing allergens. This change, while admirable  is misguided.

Every single story that is written about air travel and food allergies has to do with peanuts. One then thinks, oh only peanuts are the issue and fine if we remove them then they risk of on board anaphylaxis is taken away. Sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Over 150 foods have been identified to cause anaphylaxis. That’s a lot of foods!  Some may argue that only peanuts cause airborne reactions. However, to someone with a dairy allergy Powder cheese products, like Doritos,pirate booty, cheez doodles all can cause the same reaction. Steaming milk could also be an issue.

The focus of the problem is misplaced.  Let’s not only think about the peanut allergy issue on flights, let’s think about all with anaphylaxis. A year ago a doctor told me a story how they had to treat someone mid flight because they had anaphylaxis to red pepper. What was worse, they had no epinephrine injector on board. The doctor had to use the epinephrine  that is used for heart attack patients.

We must ask for epinephrine auto-injector to be present on all flights. we must demand that staff be trained to respond to this type of medical emergency. We also must ask the airlines to come up with allergy accommodations for meals. Finally, if airlines are going to ask people to not eat nuts, then they also need to ask people not to eat other allergenic foods if a passenger on board is allergic. We can not make this about just one allergen or just one food!! Imagine if anti-discrimination laws applied to only one ethnic group or one religion or one particular disability. Changes need to be made to protect all individuals who may suffer from anaphylaxis. So while we celebrate and commend this public acknowledgement of the danger posed by anaphylactic peanut allergy by British Airways, we must continue fighting for changes that will offer equal protection to all individuals with allergies that pose a risk for an anaphylactic reaction.

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