This post is part of an new not-quite-weekly series at The Mother of All Trips focused on the “how-tos“ of family travel. Rachel Alembakis is an expat American living in Melbourne with her husband and two daughters (you may remember her posts about the Great Barrier Reef and Kangaroo Island). This summer the four of them traveled to the United States to visit family and friends. Here she shares her experience of traveling with a child who has mild food allergies. The key thing is to remember to plan ahead and to think like a traveling parent – that is, be prepared! Even if you’ve given your child dinner before you get on the plane, remember that airline meals are a fun distraction on long flights, and one you probably don’t want to deny your child.
Whenever we travel, we move with one piece of unseen baggage – our older daughter is allergic to eggs and almonds. We’re fortunate that her allergies are not severe; we don’t need to travel with an EpiPen. Her reaction isn’t anaphylactic anymore; she tends to get a bad stomachache when she eats either allergen and the reaction can be halted with over-the-counter antihistamines. She has a few intolerances too which cause the same reactions. Intolerances and allergies are different but luckily for us, we can treat them very similarly. We found out pretty early on in her life that she had these dietary requirements after we had an allergy and food intolerance test conducted. It is by no means a crippling situation, but it requires a bit of forethought and a lot of label reading to make sure we cater to our family needs.
Our planning failed us, though, on the first leg of our recent trip to the U.S. We flew from Melbourne to Los Angeles on V Australia (the Australian division of Virgin Blue), a flight where both dinner and breakfast were served. The flight took off after 8 p.m., and we had fed our two daughters before we left the house. However, as any traveling parent knows, a meal can be a welcome distraction and time-consumer, and thus rarely to be refused. When the service came around and we were offered the choice of chicken or beef, we mentioned to the flight staff our daughter’s condition and that’s where we hit a snag. They asked if we’d requested an egg-free main course. We hadn’t. We were politely informed that the meals were catered by an external provider and that they couldn’t guarantee they weren’t prepared with traces of egg. As such, the staff weren’t prepared to give us the entrée at all – even after we assured them that we were confident that our daughter wouldn’t suffer an allergic reaction.
Let me say that I’m not complaining at all about our treatment. On the contrary, the staff were polite and cordial and, I presume, motivated by concern to make sure that our daughter didn’t suffer anaphylactic shock as well as to protect the overall status of the flight. They gave our daughter the tray minus an entrée – salad, roll, a hunk of cheese and chocolate. She ate everything except the salad and was quite happy. I didn’t care about the nutritional considerations because, please –a long haul flight? It exists outside of the parenting version of Robert’s Rules – all normal points of are suspended.
When breakfast was served, she had the continental breakfast option of cereal, milk, fruit and yogurt and again, was quite pleased. I found it curious, however, that even though we were willing to take the risk and responsibility on ourselves, the staff still refused to serve us. I can understand why: We would be taking the risk, but the staff would be required to assist on the remote chance that an adverse reaction would happen. I presume they have risk mitigation training, and this could be high on the list.
I consulted V Australia’s website while writing this post and found a specific section on allergies and anaphylaxis:
If you have a severe allergy, you may request that Cabin Crew wipe down your aircraft seat and tray tables prior to boarding. Cabin Crew can also notify Guests in your immediate vicinity of your allergy if you wish them to do so. While we will do what we can to assist, we cannot guarantee that our aircraft are free of nut products or other allergens onboard.
If you have a life threatening allergy, you should carry appropriate medication on your flight and be able to administer it if required. Your medication should be accompanied by a doctor’s certificate if possible to eliminate any difficulties in passing through security.
Under no circumstances will V Australia accept any responsibility for adverse reactions you may suffer while flying.
In a search for allergies on the site, I was directed to their section delineating special meal requests, which provides a great commentary on our multicultural world – you can request anything from a “Moslem meal” (No pork or alcohol is used in the preparation of this meal. Food items must be sourced from approved Halal suppliers.) to a vegan meal. Salt free, diabetic-approved, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, low cholesterol…the options abound.
The point of all this can really be boiled down to that most banal of truisms when it comes to family travel: plan ahead. Make sure the whole family has any required vaccines from a doctor leichardt based, double check your passports are all within the expiry date and if you have allergies in your family, contact customer service and find out what your options are. On our return flight, my husband called the airlines and requested a meal with no egg and no almonds. When we got on in LA: Bingo! No problems – an egg-free entrée at dinner and at breakfast, one happy child, two happy parents. What more could you ask for?