June 10, 2014 — Our family only flies when absolutely necessary, usually to see relatives. Recently, however, we’ve been thinking more about Amtrak because in many ways it seems like rail travel might be a safer and easier way to go compared to airline travel if you are dealing with food allergies. For example, if someone is eating nuts around you in a train car, at least you can get up and move to a different car.
I decided to see what else I could find out about rail travel by calling an old friend of mine who is Amtrak’s spokesperson. Marc Magliari has worked for Amtrak for many years, and he was more than willing to provide me with tips and ideas on how to make rail travel safe for food allergic passengers.
Magliari’s first piece of advice is to pay a bit extra to get a sleeper car if you’re going to be traveling overnight. With your own sleeper car, you’ll be less apt to be impacted by what others are eating around you. He recommended getting a sleeper car at the end of a hallway, which is prone to less foot traffic.
Keep in mind that while Amtrak cleans the sleeper cars and provides fresh, clean sheets, you may be contending with upholstery and carpeting that may contain food proteins or nut particles from previous passengers. In terms of ventilation, there is an air exchange on each sleeper car, so it is possible that if someone is eating nuts in a nearby room there may be some airborne risk if you happen to be in the same rail car.
If you’re traveling a shorter distance and you don’t need a sleeper car, and another passenger is eating an offending food, Magliari recommends asking the conductor if you or the other passenger can be re-located to a different car. Magliari notes that often your request can be accommodated.
In terms of dining options, I was pleased to learn that they have all of their menus online. Even better, they have all the nutrition and ingredients listed, including allergens. The only issue I have with this information is that it is a bit outdated. The ingredients were last updated in May 2013. If you decide to order something off of the menu, just check with the food server to make sure that none of the ingredients have changed. They do offer vegetarian and kosher meal options as well.
If you’re like us and need to carry your own food, you should bring your food in a cooler. Magliari says they’ll provide ice for your cooler, and they’ve got electrical outlets in the sleeper cars so you could bring along a hot plate if need be.
If there is an emergency onboard, Magliara says the train will meet EMS personnel in the next town.
If there are family allergies to pets, you should be aware that dogs and cats are now allowed on trains between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois. The Illinois Department of Transportation asked Amtrak to try out the pilot pet program which runs through November 2, 2014. Magliari says there will be at least one car that is pet free.
Based on this information and our own allergy and asthma profile, here’s what I would bring along on an Amtrak trip:
- Medicine, of course, including Auvi-Q
- Portable Nebulizer
- Pillow, sheets and/or seat covers
- Small air purifier (if in sleeper car)
- Cooler and hot plate
If you’ve already taken Amtrak, please let us know how you found the experience.
Safe Travels —
By the way, the cheapest time to travel Amtrak is in the fall and in January and February. Book early, and you’ll get a better rate. There are different types of sleeper cars based on where you’re traveling and on which rail line. Be sure to check their website for additional information on the types of sleeper cars that are available.
You can find additional information on Amtrak’s pilot pet program by visiting http://www.amtrak.com/carry-on-pet-pilot