As the mother of child with multiple severe food allergies, one of the potential situations that frightens me the most — more than sending her to school, more than leaving her in daycare — is the possibility of her coming into contact with a peanut or treenut whilst on a flight. If she were to pick up a wayward nut that had found its way into the corner of her seat and pop it in her mouth… well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about. Trapped thousands of feet up in the air, unable to get to a hospital or urgent medical help… oh, my blood runs cold at the thought. Yes, there are Epi-pens, but these are not cures and they are not guarantees — sometimes they stop the reaction, sometimes they just buy you time, and sometimes they can’t do anything at all. An Epi-pen in the nappy bag means we’re as best prepared for exposure as we can be, but it’s no excuse to court disaster by walking blithely into a high exposure situation.
M wants all of us to go home for a fortnight next summer and I’ve had a look at Continental’s website for reassurance. Thankfully, they don’t serve bags of peanuts anymore, but they point out that some of their other in-flight snacks may contain nuts — and I am nervous. It makes no difference to me if that peanut in the corner of E2’s chair has come out of a packet of peanuts or a packet of some mixed snack containing peanuts — the result would be the same, and that scares the tar outta me. Continental says, “we strongly encourage you to take all necessary medical precautions to prepare for the possibility of exposure during flight,” …as if that were really possible. The main medical precaution is to simply avoid near exposure to the allergen — nearly impossible in a small metal tube with a closed ventilation system — and the secondary precaution is to administer the Epi-pen and then go immediately to hospital in case of continued or secondary reactions.
Now, I do understand that the airlines can never guarentee a completely allergen-free environment — I know this — but there are a lot of simple things they can do to significantly reduce the risks. A lot more than a lot of them are doing at the moment. And that’s why I am chuffed to discover that Allergic Living magazine has started a letter-campaign to Canada’s two main air carriers, to encourage them to take these extra steps.
I urge you to read this article — no, I ask you, personally, especially if my fears and hopes seem over the top to you. And then I ask you to consider clicking on this link and adding your letter to the pile that Allergic Living will be able to deliver to Air Canada and WestJet. And then I ask you send Allergic Living a quick email (firstname.lastname@example.org) asking them to extend this campaign to the other major carriers in the US and the rest of the world.
For the majority of people, this is a non-starter of an issue — it doesn’t affect them and means nothing to them. I understand this. But for those with food allergies, this is real life or death stuff — and yet so easily, so frustratingly preventable. If you could spare a moment to click on that link, perhaps we can effect this one small change that means that, in future, the only thing that food allergy sufferers have to fear in the air is that same fiery crash that everyone else is trying not to think about.