Sometimes it’s a bit scary to contemplate the two of these together. We’ve done it a few times with our kids but after a horror flight with our son aged 7 months we didn’t do it again for a very long time.
Our first attempt with three kids was a flight from Brisbane to Perth. We survived – hooray, so we decided to book to go to London a year and a bit later. All was well and we were back in the business of travel – whoo who!
Here’s my top tips for plane travel with kids:
1. Allow plenty of time to get to the airport and check in. You don’t want to be stressed and hurried before you get on the plane.
2. Pack a small backpack for each child with a small water bottle, a few snacks and a few toys or activities. The best thing we ever bought for plane travel was a cardboard colouring in book with a water pen. By the time they finished all the pictures the beginning was dry and off they went again. I kept it as a surprise for the trip so they coloured in for hours – literally!
3. Pack a set of extra clothes for the kids (at least a clean top and clean underwear) – you just never know what might happen. For long flights I also take a clean top for me!
4. Take lots of baby wipes to clean up spills and mess.
If you haven’t traveled on a plane with your kids and they’ve got food allergies however there are a few other things you need to consider. I thought for this I’d get in an expert so I called Jackie Nevard. Jackie is an author who writes books for children with food allergies.
Jackie, can you tell us briefly about your journey with allergies?
Our own journey with allergies started when Thai presented symptoms at 8 weeks but after seeing as many as five doctors, health nurses and sleep school, we didn’t get a diagnoses until 9mths. After nine months of sleepless nights due to Thai's discomfort from breastfeeding, he was diagnosed with 7 food allergies. Our relief of finally finding a cause to Thai’s discomfort soon turned in to dismay. Like any parent we wanted to find out as much as we could about his life-threatening condition. But we soon realised there were limited resources and a real lack of information from our GP. We were sent to a Paediatrician, who would not prescribe an EpiPen. His very words were “let’s wait and see how bad his reaction is!” I continued breastfeeding unaware that allergens are passed in breast-milk, this meant I was still exposing Thai to his allergens until at 15 months we saw an allergy specialist. Suddenly we had a different child, no more diarrhoea, rashes, vomiting or crying.
Thai has just finished his first year at school, emotionally I have found it hard this year. He had a successful year with no reactions but I seemed to be fighting the school every step of the way. He was excluded so many times, his own teacher bringing unsafe food and sharing with the class while he was given an apple. EpiPen issues, relief staff not informed and out of date policies. His school have over 20 children requiring EpiPens and have some great policies but sadly some are not carried out.
What are your top tips for safe plane travel with kids who have food allergies?
Tip 1 - Travel Plan
Most airlines recommend you carry some form of documentation or doctor’s letter, stating the need to carry medication or food. We get our doctor to sign Thai's Travel Plan which can be downloaded here.
Tip 2 - The Airline
Contact the airline you are flying with. See what their policies are. Do they serve nuts? Can they offer a peanut free buffer zone. Remember passengers bring their own food too! If you are sitting next to another passenger inform them of your child's allergy. One lady I sat next to had egg sandwiches in her bag, she very kindly didn't eat them and purchased another sandwich from the food trolly.
Tip 3 - EpiPens
Carry your EpiPen x 2 and Action Plan. Remember to always keep your child's auto-injector near you and not in the overhead locker. We also carry a third back up pen. I keep Thai's medicine bag in the seat pocket. For more tips check out Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia here:
Think about the time of day you are traveling. Will you be flying when breakfast is served – eggs and bacon. Traveling later may be less stressful if you have an egg allergy but the plane is often only surfaced cleaned for flights the rest of the day. Remember the most serious reactions are those where the allergen is eaten. Always take your own food. We have flown in the morning and cancelled our food trays of egg and bacon and were offered rolls and fruit instead. You can always order vegan meals for the rest of the family.
Tip 5 - Safe Food
Take plenty of safe food. Remember delays often happen when you travel. We have be diverted to a different airport which put another 4 hours of travel time onto our trip! There is very little safe food at airports if you have multiple allergies. Never eat the airline food, it's not worth the risk!
Tip 6 - Board Early
Ask if you can board the plane early so you can wipe down the tray table, arm rest, window shutter and remove any food crumbs. We have found later flights to be very dirty, nuts and food on the floors. Your child is bound to drop their favourite toys on the floor, so make sure you check the floor before you take off. Check the seat pocket too, they can have food wrappers and dirty tissues. If you have a dust allergy avoid the blanket the airlines hand out. Inform the cabin crew that your child has food allergies. We always make ourselves known to the flight crew. Some airlines have even blocked the seat next to us so no food is passed over us.
Tip 7 - Have Fun!
Both my boys love flying and although flying with allergies can make many of us nervous, for our kids there is nothing like the excitement of travel. The busy airport, watching the planes land, the thrill of take off and the surreal landscape below as our children watch wide-eyed at the window. I've tried very hard to making flying about travel and not about the what if's! - Bon-voyage!
What made you write your children’s books Jackie?
Thai was my inspiration for wanting to help educate others on food allergies. We soon realised that there were limited resources aimed at very young children and this is a great age to start teaching kids. I also wanted to find story books about a real person with real medicine. So with the help of my talented husband, the book illustrator, we created a series of books based on the characters, Thai & Rabbie.
I felt there was a real educational gap of fun educational resources for young children. Thai & Rabbie use positive and empowering messages, using simple teaching points to help children understand allergies. The books follow the character Thai as he grows up and helps us overcome different challenges that many children face as they get older.
I also think it is just as important to teach all children about allergies. Friends and classmates can play a key role on helping keeping kids with allergies safe, along with helping them feel included. Our resources focus on many simple teaching points like, not sharing food and hand washing. Our posters, flashcards and craft all help kids interact and have fun while learning!
Jackie’s books are available at on her website here.