Flying With a Food Allergic Child: Exactly What Not to Do

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Flying with a food allergic child takes finesse. Some planning. Responsibility.

I fell apart in all of these areas recently and it gave me a story to share. You know, the what not to do kind of story. The post on what you should do is forthcoming; probably from someone more responsible than me.

Our flight was early in the morning, 6:00 kind of early. We arrived at O’Hare at 4:30 thinking 90 minutes would give us plenty of time to make it through security. Because, really, how many people would be at the airport at 4:30 a.m.?

Ummm…. so, apparently, ALL OF CHICAGO.

“Surely,” I thought, “we will get through security quickly and I’ll be at the gate to let the gate agent know that a child with severe nut allergies would be on the flight, and definitely early enough to pre-board to wipe down our entire area to ensure no peanut dust would be making it to Z’s hands, face, or clothes during the flight.”

As we loaded up our items to go through x-ray, I politely spoke with the TSA agent, “I’ve got medically necessary liquids and medications that I would prefer be hand inspected.”

flying with a food allergySee, we’ve not done this before. Until I recently became aware that Mylan, the producer of EpiPen, recommends a visual inspection of the auto-injector, we’ve always put our epi’s through the x-ray. This time, with this one simple request, I learned that a visual inspection is a whole different protocol, requiring swabs of all of the items that went through the x-ray already, and swabs of the person making the request… which eventually landed me in a special “quick massage” room, at 5:30; there went pre-boarding.

On the upside, I learned for all of my friends out there that if you have lotion on your hands, and you’re swabbed for the special screening through TSA, you’d likely be flagged as having explosives residue on your hands. I’m never using lotion the day of a flight again, and I invite you to make that same choice—you’re welcome.

After being cleared by the TSA via the special “treatment,” I run to my gate, it’s 5:45.

Hubby and Z had taken all of my stuff with them, belt, boarding pass, phone, I was on my own. And I couldn’t find them.

We connect and I board the plan scant minutes before they do, and quickly wipe down Z’s seat, the window, his tray, and his seat belt. We all sit down at 5:55 for our 6:00 flight.

Learn from my experience on what not to do when you fly with your food allergic child. Show up early, don’t wear lotion (if you’ll request a visual inspection of your meds), and take your belt and phone with you to the special TSA massage lounge.

I have half a mind to just use x-ray next time.

So now it’s your turn, share with us your actual, really good tips you have for your child when flying with a food allergy in the comments.


Tiffany Self

Tiffany Self is a wife, mom to "Z", and a lover of words. In an ironic twist, she is an English class dropout who now writes for a living. Tiffany is a freelancer in the Chicago suburbs by way of Seattle and Southern Oregon. She writes about her journey of parenting a child with multiple severe food allergies, asthma, and environmental allergies. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

9 Comments to Flying With a Food Allergic Child: Exactly What Not to Do

  1. Ed

    So as a frequent traveler. Here is my biggest tip. Unless everyone in your party has TSA pre access AND you have special requirements once you get to the plane always give your yourself as much time as possible. 2 hrs min. Especially during summer and on all holidays.
    90 mins during summer can be cutting it close with no other urgent requirements at anytime with no airline status or TSA Pre.

    • Ed

      Oh. And never ask TSA to go out of routine unless there is an actual medical specified need to do so. If they ask about it after screening then tell them what it is. Don’t ask Don’t tell works well here!! :)

      • Tiffany

        Thanks, Ed. If only we had all of your experience rolled up into one :-). Really, though, someone ought to do a study as to whether epinephrine really is ok after being exposed to TSA x-rays. It would save a lot of us hassle and concern.

  2. Yikes. I’m flying out of Minneapolis with my food allergic son for the first time next week. Ours is also a 6:00 am flight! I will see what our allergist recommends about x-ray, but I’m almost positive there’s no risk in putting all our medications through. We have a few Auvi-Q injectors and Epipens right now and I am planning to bring the whole stash.

    • Tiffany

      Suze, you’ll be great! Just allow yourself plenty of time, and I’m sure you will have no trouble :-).

  3. Lizzi

    I was just wondering (as I cannot find information about this online) if inhalers can go through x-ray machines?

    • Tiffany Self

      Lizzi, we have always put our inhalers through x-ray. It might be worth a call to the manufacturer to double-check.

  4. Nancy

    As a peanut allergic adult, I am careful to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants, sneakers & socks when I fly. I don’t want to risk arms & legs on seats. I change as soon as possible and wash those clothes. I used to wear Birks for comfort but once saw a peanut on the floor of the plane and have worn shoes ever since. Cause really, who keeps their feet in sandals all the time unless they’re strapped on. Another thing to check on: a dietitian once told me the best cleaning choice for peanut-contamination is soap & water – that hand wipes will not effectively break down the peanut protein. Not to scare you all but you may want to look into whether there is a better option than wipes. As an adult, I can just be extremely careful about the tray, etc but I know those of you with allergic kids need to be more diligent on their behalf.

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