Category Archives: Blog

Amtrak Follow Up: Q & A with Spokesman Marc Magliari

July 30, 2014   After writing my initial post on train travel, I asked spokesman Marc Magliari for additional details on the training of food service workers, the presence of nuts, etc.  Below are his answers to my questions.

Q:  After checking your website, I’m wondering how often the food facts will be updated. The menu items were last updated on May 8, 2013.  At the bottom of the page, it says ingredients may have changed so there are no guarantees.

A:  We of course do provide generic disclaimers on all printed menus, which is not unusual for Amtrak or other food service operators to do.

Q:  I’m assuming if an ingredient has changed that at least your food service workers would be aware of it even if the website isn’t updated, correct?

A:  The most common way for an item to have changed is as a result of commissary provisioning as to manage inventory and purchase agreements, we sometimes must make product substitutions to manage inventory. Train managers are tasked with communicating those substitutions with the On-Board Service staff.

Q:  Have your food service workers been trained in the area of food allergies?

A:  On-Board Service staff are not trained relative to food allergens at this time. Managers have each taken an allergen awareness class provided by MENUTRINFO, a partner whom we work with in verifying nutritional data for use in our dining service guides as well as for use on the Amtrak Food Facts website.

Q:  Do food service workers know how to work with food to prevent cross contamination?

A:  Yes.

Q:  Are peanuts or tree nuts served on any of your trains?

A:  Like most food service operators, we do offer a small number of selections that may utilize tree-nuts or peanuts (those would be listed on the packaging). Many of our current suppliers do produce items in facilities that are not “nut-free.”

Both M&M Peanuts and Planters Brand Salted Peanuts are offered in all of our Café Lounge Cars for guests who’d wish to purchase them. Dining cars do not offer these type of grab and go snacks, so those cars would not have those.

While our on-board staff and Amtrak Food Facts website are can be very helpful in terms of providing guidelines, passengers must plan accordingly and be responsible for their own safety, health and well-being while traveling on Amtrak.

Thank you for the additional information Marc Magliari.  This information helps us plan and prepare for safer travels.

Amy

Flying Not An Option … Have you thought about Amtrak?

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)
  • Mask
  • Food/Snacks
  • Cooler and hot plate
  • Wipes

If you’ve already taken Amtrak, please let us know how you found the experience.

Safe Travels —

Amy

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

 

 

 

 

 

Fly Safe: My Top Ten List

May 12, 2014 — Of course, my fondest wish is that an emergency kit to reduce food allergic reactions onboard planes would be unnecessary if airlines stopped serving or allowing nuts on flights.  Until that happens, if you have a family member with a nut allergy you probably have your own “emergency kit” that you bring on board.

I have my own, ranked from preventive measures to those measures required to treat an on-board reaction.  Here, in a “nutshell,” is my list.

1. Wipes to try and disinfect seat handles, cushions, serving tray and the seat pocket.

2. Mask to diminish airborne nut particles which could trigger an allergic reaction.  http://icanbreathe.com/store/honeycomb1.html

3. Seat Cover that can be placed over the existing seat cover which is probably contaminated with nut residue from previous occupants.  http://www.planesheets.com

4. Safe snacks/meals that allow family members to enjoy on-board dining without worrying about nuts or ingredients with nuts that could trigger an allergic reaction.

5. Airborne nut allergy sash; or anything else that is wearable and that alerts passengers to your nut allergy.  This is almost always effective since it is a non-confrontational way to cause nearby passengers to think twice before opening a bag of nuts.  https://thesashcompany.com

6. Extra snacks for passengers who may have brought a snack that contains nuts.  It’s amazing what happens when you offer someone an alternative snack.   Typically, it’s appreciated.

7.  Auvi-Q (or epipen). You probably use one or the other, but my preference is the Auvi-Q, which essentially “talks” you though the treatment process.

8.  Single dose Benadryl.  I love these and am thrilled that they are back on the market.   Check your local Walgreens.

9.  Steroids that are prescribed by a physician.

10. Portable nebulizer with albuterol (or inhaler) to aid breathing should an allergic reaction occur.

For those of you who are sensitive to airborne triggers, whether or not it’s nuts, you may want to consider bringing your own oxygen supply on board the aircraft.  Check out Oxygen To Go, a company based in Wyoming which supplies individuals with portable oxygen concentrators.  I’ve tried contacting the airlines to see whether they would they provide this for us, but they have refused.   http://oxygentogo.com

The last thing to bring along is a smile and an attitude of gratitude.   I find that I get farther when I make a request with a smile on my face.  Also, if the flight attendants agree to set up a buffer zone, be forewarned that you may be at risk if you have to get up during the flight to use the restroom or exit the plane, especially if you have contact or airborne allergies.  We found this out the hard way with my own family.   So be sure to wear a mask and/or gloves when you leave the buffer zone.

Lastly, if you’re being given a hard time by a flight attendant or crew member and are threatened with being removed from the plane, ask to speak with the pilot.  Only the pilot has the authority to ask you to leave the plane, according to a senior executive at the Flight Attendants Association.   A flight attendant does not have this authority. 

I got a great piece of advice from fellow food allergy mom and attorney, Laurel Francoeur, author of  “Flying with Food Allergies:  What You Need to Know.”   She told me that she always tries to arrive at the gate early so she can speak with the pilots before they board the plane.  According to Francoeur, the pilots tend to be more sympathetic to her cause when she speaks with them beforehand.

It’s time for vacations, so to ensure that your trip can be enjoyed by all, preparation and prevention of food allergic reactions will help ensure you arrive at your destination happy and healthy.

Safe Travels —

Amy

 

Swiss Air’s Allergy Friendly Policy

April 28, 2014 —  My husband and I traveled to Switzerland several years ago to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos.  The country is beautiful, the people are very pleasant, and since we both previously had lived abroad, we talked about the possibility of living abroad again with our family.  But, when you have a child with asthma and severe food allergies, you don’t think these things are possible.  

But after hearing Swiss Air’s announcement last week that they had become the first airline to receive an “allergy-friendly” designation, I may have to reconsider my thinking. 

When I first heard about their special designation, I wasn’t all that excited or impressed. That was before I spoke with Swiss Air’s inflight development executive Jan Trachsel. Now I’m reconsidering my position, and I’m thankful they’re making an effort to better accommodate their allergic travelers. 

The first thing that Trachsel told me was that their allergic passengers are the experts — they’re not –so they’re going to listen to their passengers and try to accommodate them as best they can.

“This is a learning curve for us.  We will constantly be adapting and changing.  Communication is key,” he said. What a refreshing thing to hear, especially by an airline executive. I just wish some American air carriers felt the same way.

I asked him what arrangements they would make for us if I were to fly with my daughter who has contact and airborne allergies to all nuts and dairy.  Could we expect an announcement?  A buffer zone? What exactly would the airline do to help protect her?  He said each individual case is going to be different based on the severity of the individual’s specific allergen or trigger.   He said they wouldn’t make a cabin wide announcement, but they would create a buffer zone, the size of which would depend upon the severity of the allergy and the comfort level of the passenger.  Trachsel mentioned a situation that came up a few months ago when one of their snacks which contained nuts wasn’t handed out until passengers were getting off of the plane.

Compared to U.S. airlines which serve food products with eight major food allergens, Switzerland has 14 major allergens which include mustard, sesame and celeriac, for example.  How could an airline possibly create a comprehensive policy that deals with 14 major allergens?

“We will be handling these situations in a discreet kind of way,” said Trachsel.  “The nut issue is quite a controversial topic.  We’ve tried to get rid of all peanuts and dishes which contain peanuts, but we can’t ban all nuts,” he said.  Swiss Air is asking passengers not to bring peanuts on board the flights, but if their non-allergic passengers don’t visit the Swiss Air website when making their reservation they won’t necessarily see the request.

In terms of food service, they’re working with their European food suppliers to make sure they’re certified gluten, peanut and lactose-free.  They’re also looking to expand their offerings from US food manufacturers as well.

“Again, this is a first step,” said Trachsel.  “We want to make sure we have transparency throughout the entire production process.”  In addition to their food offerings, customer service personnel and flight crews have received a brochure on the top 14 allergens and medical training.

While in the process of writing this blog post, I received an email from a woman who spoke with Swiss Air about flying with peanut and tree nut allergies.  She was informed by a Swiss Air representative that they couldn’t accommodate a child with a peanut or tree nut allergy.

I immediately contacted Trachsel about the incident and he quickly replied that this should not have happened.  Obviously, not everyone at Swiss Air has been educated on their new policy.  Trachsel has reached out to this person and is hoping to remedy the situation.

While I am disappointed that Swiss Air has not been more forthcoming with the information they’ve provided on their website, perhaps this had something to do with the comfort level of their attorneys regarding liability issues.  I’m definitely more hopeful about where they’re headed and what’s to come.  No doubt, they’ll show their American counterparts how to get the job done, but that requires all of us with family members with severe nut allergies to be vigilant and press our cause whenever we can.  If enough voices are heard, change can come.

Safe Travels —

Amy

 

First Airline Receives Allergy Friendly Designation

ZURICH AIRPORT, Switzerland, April 16, 2014 — In May, Swiss International Air Lines Ltd., (SWISS), will introduce a number of ground/ inflight products designed to enhance the air travel experience for allergy sufferers. These innovations will include new alternative (lactose- and gluten- free) food and drinks, along with cabin interior changes.

SWISS has teamed up with the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) to offer its guests an even more individualized service product for travelers with allergies. New onboard all SWISS flights will be lactose- and gluten- free food and beverage alternatives such as lactose-free coffee cream and a lactose-free version of the popular SWISS chocolate bar.

Depending on the length of the flight, SWISS guests with allergies or other intolerances may further request special snacks (candy bars, yoghurt or cakes) that address passenger allergies, and pay full regard to their conditions.

At present, allergy sufferers will be able to order special meals tailored to their needs in all seating classes on long-haul services and in Business Class within Europe up to 24 hours before their scheduled departure. From the U.S., SWISS offers long-haul flights to Switzerland in First, Business, Economy classes of service from Boston, Chicago, New York, Newark, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

SWISS is making allergy-minded modifications to its cabins, too. First and Business Class passengers will be offered pillows stuffed with synthetic materials as an alternative to the down-filled version. SWISS is also ceasing its use in the cabin of decorative flowers and air fresheners that might cause nose and throat irritations; and the on-board toilets will now feature soaps that are gentle on the skin.

“We have seen a steady increase over the past few years in our customers’ need for an air travel environment that pays due regard to any allergic conditions,” explains Frank Maier, SWISS’s Head of Product & Services. “So we’ve been working with ECARF (the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation) to provide a concrete response to these demands to make everyone’s air travel experience as pleasant and problem-free as possible.”

“The numbers of people suffering from allergies have been increasing throughout the industrialized world for several years now,” adds Professor Torsten Zuberbier, the Director of Berlin-based ECARF.  “Over 30 percent of Europe’s population are directly affected by one or more allergies – not to mention those indirectly affected, such as their families. Yet only around 10 percent of sufferers get the right medical treatment; and allergies are still often not taken seriously, even by the sufferers themselves.”

SWISS is the first airline in the world to meet the ECARF criteria for ‘allergy-friendly’ airlines. As a result, SWISS can now place the ECARF seal of approval on its service product range.

To book a SWISS flight, visit www.swiss.com or contact your local travel agent.

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While I’m pleased to see this announcement, I don’t believe Swiss Air’s efforts go far enough for passengers with severe food allergies.  Are they willing to make an announcement for someone with either peanut or tree nut allergies?  Are they willing to create a buffer zone?  Since they now have their “allergy friendly” designation, perhaps they will take these steps for someone with severe allergies, but can I count on it?  Online, Swiss Air says they cannot guarantee a nut free flight nor can they control what passengers bring on the aircraft. In my mind, there’s still too much ambiguity to fly Swiss Air, but I would certainly consider it if they could provide us with additional information on how they would handle a nut allergy.

With regards to the lactose-free and gluten-free foods they’ll be offering, I’m waiting to learn more from the company about how these products are manufactured.  Until we know more, I would encourage passengers with either life threatening allergies or celiac disease to bring their own food on board the flight.  I’ll pass along more information as I get it as well.

In the meantime, we should thank Swiss Air for acknowledging this growing public health concern and for taking these steps which are bound to help many.

Happy Spring.  Safe Travels  –

Amy

 

 

“More Than An Inconvenience” – A Great Response

April 9, 2014

It’s been a month now since the Academy Awards, and I often think if they had a category for raising awareness about a public health concern, our film “More Than An Inconvenience” would have been a winner. It wasn’t created to win awards (although it has), but to-date, it has had nearly 8,000 on-line hits; which I consider a “blockbuster” in the allergy-free universe.

The film is accomplishing what it was intended to do; get people involved in helping to change travel policies to accommodate those people with severe nut allergies, and other airborne allergies.  The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and even surprising.

For example, one food allergy mom told me that she had shown the film to her school superintendent, principal, and to her colleagues at work.

The response she got from these people was: “I had no idea that this is what you go through… ”.  This is exactly the type of response we want people to have.  I would encourage each and every one of you to use this film to educate those around you.

I’ve spoken with a number of reporters who are interested in this story, but they’re looking for ways to localize it and talk to someone in the community with nut allergies. It would be a great benefit to our cause if you could reach out to local reporters, especially those with food allergies.

Write Letters to the Editor. If you read a column about allergies, contact the author and ask him or her to develop a follow-up column on food allergies.  Use social media to give the issue more attention. Be sure to let people know about the film.

We will continue to work to get this film out to those who need to be educated.   In fact, I’ve had several discussions already with aviation departments about the possibility of showing the film in airports.

Lastly, I want to thank all of you who wrote to express your support and to all those who donated to AllergySafeTravel.  Our work is just beginning.

Safe Travels —

Amy

Just last year, “More Than An Inconvenience” won best short documentary at the LA Film and Script Festival in California.

 

Airline Presentation – Piloting An Allergy Safe Route

March 12, 2014

Once you’ve been through on onboard allergic reaction, you learn pretty quickly how not to sweat the small stuff, so it was with this mindset that I went into my presentation with airline executives. About 30 represenatives from 15 to 16 different air carriers were present along with executives from the international airline association. There’s no doubt that after having heard my presentation and viewing our film “More Than an Inconvenience,” they have a greater understanding and awareness of what we go through when we want to fly.

The overall feedback to the presentation has been positive. I think airline executives want to do the right thing; it’s just figuring out how. Since the meeting, we’ve had several conversations about possible next steps, and it looks like we will continue to meet dialogue and exchange ideas.

Just last week, I asked two major air carriers whether we could charter “allergy-friendly” flights. By chartering a flight, we can control who boards the flight and what snacks are served. The idea here is that we could charter a few flights during the summer months for families or individuals who are interested in flying to some of the more popular destination spots, like Disney for example. My hope is that these flights would be sold out with waiting lists. These flights would be so successful that airline executives would see the need and/or demand for such flights. Nothing sways an organization more than when they can add revenue.

While I don’t expect change to happen overnight, I’m hopeful that over time, with your support, it will come. Just recently, Jet Blue announced that they will offer a nut-free snack on their planes. Again, it’s a step, and it only takes one….

Safe Travels –

Amy

BTW, if you would be interested in flying on an allergy-friendly flight, please drop me a note. We need your feedback.

VIDEO: Mom to Mom

Two friends and I have decided to get together from time to time to talk about the latest food allergy news, how to manage them on a daily basis, and ways in which we can help support one another. Please let us know if you have any thoughts or ideas on topics you might find helpful. Please click on the link below to see our video clip. Feedback is encouraged.

"More Than An Inconvenience" – Film looks at flying with nut allergies

At long last, I’m pleased to finally be able to release this short film that looks at the issue of flying with nut allergies. For nearly two years, I’ve been waiting to have a meeting with airline representatives, and I wanted them to be the first ones to see this film. That meeting was held on Tuesday, Jan. 28th, 2014, in Washington, DC.

In the film, you’ll hear interviews from those who’ve had reactions on board flights and those who refuse to fly due to the severity of their allergies. My hope is that this film will create more understanding and empathy towards those like my daughter who have severe life-threatening allergies. Please feel free to pass this along to friends and family.

A press release announcing the film can be found on the media page.

Overseas Travel and Food Allergies?

International travel is a particular challenge for people with food allergies. In fact, most of the email messages I get are from parents who want to travel overseas with their food allergic children. For our family, getting on a plane for an overseas flight is too big of a risk, and I know a lot of other families who are in the same boat. Travel has always been an important part of my life after having spent more than a year living and traveling abroad. I had always hoped as a parent that I would be able to share those experiences with my children. At this point in time, it’s not feasible.

Given my experiences abroad, I wanted to find a way to bring those cultural experiences home to my children, so I decided to take a part-time position as a consultant with Cultural Care Au Pair, one of the largest au pair agencies in the U.S. In this position, I help host families and au pairs settle in together and advise them while they’re in the U.S.

By working with Cultural Care, I hope to accomplish a couple of things: first off, I told my children if we can’t travel overseas, then we’ll bring everyone here. In fact, we’re currently learning a lot about Colombia since we have a Colombian au pair staying with us. Additionally, the agency has dozens of offices around the world. Through this connection, it’s my hope that we’ll be able to expand AllergySafeTravel’s reach internationally and find people who can help us build up our database for overseas travel.

In the meantime, Cultural Care’s parent company EF Foundation, which coordinates international student exchange programs, is looking for families to host high school students from around the globe. Since we’ve connected, I now receive information on European food allergic high school students who want to come to the U.S. to study. Hosting a student is yet another great opportunity to introduce children to a new language and/or culture.

Here are some other ideas if overseas travel is too difficult:

*Host an international, allergen-free dinner night. Pick a country, find out what kinds of foods are popular in that particular country, and then create your own allergen-free version.

*Find out whether there are any au pair agencies working in your community, contact a coordinator to see whether there might be an au pair from a particular country which you’re interested in learning about. Invite them over. Au pairs love to share information about their culture.

*Check with a nearby school or university to see whether there are any international students who might be interested in meeting with you and your family.

*Check to see whether Language Stars is in your community. This foreign language school has teachers from around the globe who are in this country teaching their native language. It’s another great way to bring those experiences to your child.

Food allergic children don’t have to live in cocoons, let’s open some doors for them!

Safe Travels!

Amy