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2015: A Life Changing Year for Me but One Filled with Promise

September 29, 2015

Have you ever had one of those years where you want to climb under a rock and stay there for a good long time? Well, this year happens to be my year to climb under that rock. We all like to think that we have some morsel of control over life, but when tragedy strikes, or our loved ones fall ill, we realize how precarious life is and within seconds everything can change.

The year started off as most do with a long to-do list and New Year’s resolutions. But little did I know what was ahead of us. On January 12, my brother’s 54th birthday, we gathered at his bedside to say goodbye as he lay unconscious and dying. My brother Fritz had just undergone cancer treatment a week earlier and had returned home to recuperate. His body was so weak from the cancer treatment that he blacked out twice and hit his head both times. Since he had been on blood thinners to reduce the likelihood of a stroke, he developed a brain bleed which couldn’t be stopped. It was heart wrenching to say the least. As we gathered around his bedside, we played one of his favorite songs, “Landslide, by Stevie Nicks. Within seconds, he passed.

My mom, trying to be as stoic as ever, kept saying “I can’t imagine how horrible this is for parents who lose a young child, at least I had him for 54 years.” She repeatedly said this, and each time she did, I found myself leaving the room.

Losing a child, even one at 54, is too painful to contemplate. Yes, cancer is a horrible disease and can come with little warning. So while I don’t want to equate food allergies with cancer, a severe food allergic reaction can occur with little warning. Each day I try not to think about the fact that I could lose my daughter to something so ubiquitous as milk or cashews.

Exactly three weeks later, I returned to the same hospital–same intensive care unit– to a room just across the hall from where my brother had died. This time I had come to say goodbye to my brother-in-law, Tom, who at the age of 63 was dying; the result of lung disease and pneumonia. Seriously, life was now being cruel. He died exactly three weeks to the day after my brother.

As we all tried to move forward through the grief, my mother then fell seriously ill with the flu and had to be hospitalized for nearly a week. For a time, we wondered whether the flu and her grief were going to get the best of her. We didn’t have the emotional capacity to say goodbye to yet another family member. Fortunately, she didn’t have any preexisting medical conditions so she was able to fight the illness. We know that had she had any other health issues, she most likely wouldn’t have made it through. She’s made a remarkable recovery, but again, we’re not taking anything for granted this year. Since her illness, three other close family members have been hospitalized due to serious infections. Truly, what gives? Is anyone else having this kind of year?

While I was ready to write this year off and skip to 2016 as quickly as possible, we had what I consider a true miracle. As many of you are aware, my 10-year-old daughter has severe dairy and nut allergies. She’s had trace amounts of dairy which has caused her to go into anaphylaxis. She’s had close calls with cashews. She’s reacted to airborne nut proteins on a plane. I don’t know what possessed me, perhaps I’m still not functioning at 100 percent, but I let my allergist convince me that it was time for a peanut challenge. She had done a peanut component test which indicated that Elyse would not likely go into anaphylaxis if exposed. I agreed.

The day came, Elyse was calm and I was anything but that. Since she has asthma, I asked the allergist to simply open a can of peanuts and place it under her nose to make sure that she wouldn’t have any asthma issues if she inhaled the airborne peanut particles. We opened the can and waited. Nothing happened. No reaction. We kept moving forward, and after spending five hours in the allergist’s office and consuming nearly four tablespoons of peanut butter, the allergist declared that Elyse was no longer allergic to peanuts.

OMG! I consider it a gift of life. For ten years, we’ve avoided peanuts, peanut butter and anything peanut related. Now, all of a sudden, peanuts no longer pose a threat. Again, I wish I could describe to you the mental adjustment this kind of outcome requires. It’s not been easy, but it is liberating.

Needless to say, my world has certainly changed this year. My family no longer looks or feels the same. While I miss my brother and brother-in-law dearly, I’m more mindful of celebrating the victories, and Elyse’s victory is one I will be celebrating for years to come. While she no longer has to be fearful when she sits next to a person eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we still have two more big ones to go: milk and cashew. But I’m more committed than ever to see that we find a cure for food allergies. To that end, we’ll be announcing a new initiative soon so stay tuned for more to come. There would be nothing better than to create a world where food allergies don’t exist.

Sometimes, from tragedy comes hope. Let’s give hope to millions of families grappling with severe food allergies with a first step in stemming the tide.

Safe Travels –

Amy

Spring Travel Ahead? Tips to Help You Travel with Allergies

March 23, 2015 –

For those who suffer from seasonal or food allergies, traveling is not always such a simple task. Whether you’re planning a trip overseas or just a few states away, preparing to travel with allergies ahead of time can save you a great deal of time and frustration. Here are a few tips from Houston ENT doctors on how to make your life easier if allergies always seem to get in the way of your travel plans.

Carry an Allergy Card

When traveling with allergies, keeping an ID card of some kind containing a list of your allergies is often a very good idea, especially when traveling overseas. This card should also have your doctor’s name and phone number listed as well in case he or she needs to be contacted. In case of emergencies, always have an epinephrine injector ready along with a notice that indicates what it’s used for.

Prepare for Language Barriers

Be ready for the possibility of being in a region where English is not widely spoken. Consider compiling a list of words in the local language that correspond to food allergies you have or search online for any number of services that can print out a card for you. Google Translate can also come in very handy in certain circumstances. However, it’s often best to acquire the assistance of a local guide or translator who is willing to assist you during your stay. Even knowing just a few simple phrases can make a huge difference if allergies are a problem. Consider memorizing a few sentences that can easily summarize your allergy problems or give instructions to anyone regarding where to find your EpiPen injector if you get into trouble.

Bring Extra Medication

Anaphylaxis occurs when allergic reactions become dangerous, closing up the throat and making it difficult to breath. Carry additional epinephrine autoinjectors just in case you need more than one along with a doctor’s note to make the jobs of customs officials a little easier. Aside from epinephrine injectors, you may also want to take along antihistamine, decongestants, eye drops or any other medications you will need. It is important to bear in mind that all medications must be kept in their original containers before boarding any flights. Improperly packaged medication is not allowed by the Transportation Security Administration and it can be quite a roadblock to prepare all the medicine you will need only to discover you can’t take any of it with you on the trip.

Prepare for the Environment

If pollen, grass or other environmental allergens are your primary concern, do a little research to know what to expect in the area you are visiting. You may also consider scheduling an appointment with an allergist in order to determine what types of pollen may cause allergic reactions. Bring along a saline nasal solution when traveling to areas with increased levels of pollen. Another good tip is to wash your hair and completely change clothes before bed each night to ensure pollen doesn’t linger around in your hotel room or cling to your luggage.

Find a Local Allergy Specialist

One thing that can really help you plan out your vacation would be to research any local allergy specialists in the area you will be visiting. Knowing who to get in contact with and where to go if there ever was an emergency is a great precautionary measure to take. Consulting with a local specialist can be beneficial as they will be more familiar with the allergens in the region. Finding a doctor that accommodates same day appointments or speaks your native language would be best.

Check Ahead Before Eating Out

Don’t hesitate to call various restaurants in the area you will be visiting to see what menu items you can eat or if the staff is equipped to handle customers with your food allergies. Higher end restaurants will likely have more experience handling customers with food allergies and can accommodate your needs much more easily. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions about how food is prepared or what kind of possible allergens may exist in the kitchen. If you’re in doubt, it’s usually best to select a different place to eat.

Select an Allergy-Friendly Hotel Accommodation

The best hotel for you should offer hypoallergenic pillows and provide clean rooms that provide a safe refuge from environmental allergens. Check to make sure your room is located away from the smoking rooms and, for those sensitive to mold, ask for a room situated away from the pool area. Finally, ask about the hotel’s pet policy. Even if a room was thoroughly cleaned before your arrival, pet dander may still be in the room and can potentially cause some problems. It’s best to have these concerns addressed long before you land so you can rest easy after the long flight.

Overall, preparation is key to enjoying your vacation and ensuring you have everything you could possibly need before boarding the flight can make a huge difference. By keeping these tips in mind before going on your next adventure, allergies won’t be a constant obstacle to contend with, allowing you to enjoy the sights and sounds of your next destination without any worries.

By:  Jennifer Matthews

Houston Sinus & Allergy specializes in treating nasal and sinus conditions and providing allergy care. They do have walk-in appointments available for travelers who may be visiting the area.

AST Prepares to Launch Newsletter for Airline Industry

March 9, 2015

Dear AllergySafeTravel Supporter:

We are creating a newsletter that will be distributed to top airline executives and government officials at the Department of Transportation and the White House. This newsletter is intended to gain greater buy-in from airlines for making accommodations for severe food allergy sufferers, especially those with peanut and tree nut allergies whose health can be put at risk during flights.

In each edition, we will be highlighting airline passengers’ flying experiences, both the good and bad, and recognizing flight crew members who have gone out of their way to protect flyers with allergies, among other things.  This is where we need your help.  If you have a flying experience you would like to share, or you would like to recognize a crew member, please email me at amy@allergysafetravel.com.  If you can remember the crew member’s name and/or have a photo you would like to share, that would be great.  If not, even if you can only recall the carrier and flight number and can relate the experience, that would be most helpful.  While we will recognize those flight crew members by name that performed exceptionally (with your permission) , we will not use the names of crew members that failed to make the effort.  That is not our intention.

We will be collecting these stories on an ongoing basis, so please let us know how your flying experience is.  Our first issue will be released Summer 2015.

Our hope is that airline executives will come to realize how accommodations can make a huge difference in support of an airline and its brand.

By helping our cause,  you are helping to upgrade the safety of flights for your family.

Thank you for your continued support.

 

 

Flying with Nut Allergies – A Call to Action

January 2015

Purpose:

  • To give greater urgency to the growing problem of anaphylaxis and asthma on board planes due to airborne and contact exposure to peanuts and tree nuts, I want to share with you anecdotal and scientific evidence that this issue deserves more attention.  This article also outlines ways to prevent anaphylactic reactions by taking some common sense precautionary measures.

Five years ago, I boarded a flight from Chicago with my husband and two daughters, one of whom has asthma and life-threatening nut allergies, to attend a family member’s wedding in California.  Twenty minutes after take-off we began smelling nuts—within seconds my daughter started to react.

I grabbed the epinephrine, nebulizer, and Benadryl and started medicating my then 5 year old.  After several terrorizing minutes of not knowing whether she’d go into full anaphylactic shock, her medicine kicked in, and her symptoms slowly subsided.

There are no words to adequately describe my fear of being in the sky at 35,000 feet and watching my daughter react to one of her deadliest allergens.  That day…we got lucky.   What caused my daughter’s reaction—a couple sitting several rows in front of us opened a can of mixed nuts.

We are not alone on this journey of navigating air travel and life-threatening allergies to the inhalation of nut proteins.  There are others who have had similar, even worse, reactions on board flights.

Nearly three years ago, Alisa Gleason of Sacramento went into anaphylactic shock on board a United flight when a woman sitting several rows in front of her opened a bag of peanuts.  According to published reports, Gleason said as soon as she inhaled the airborne peanut proteins, it felt as though her lungs collapsed.  “Every time you breathe, it closes in and doesn’t open,” she said.  The plane diverted and made an emergency landing in St. Louis where Gleason spent two days in ICU.

This past August, a 4-year-old girl went into anaphylactic shock. On this flight, the flight attendants made repeated announcements about a passenger with life-threatening allergies to peanuts and requested that such products not be opened.  Sadly, a passenger, sitting several rows away from the girl, opened a bag of nuts.  The girl stopped breathing and luckily survived after being revived by epinephrine.  The plane was diverted to make an emergency landing.

We don’t know exactly how many passengers have had airborne reactions to nuts on airplanes.  The FAA does not require airlines to track and report such data.    Airlines can however implement several simple measures to safeguard passengers who have life-threatening allergies to nuts.  Many of these measures have already been discussed.

  • First, allow affected travelers time to pre-board flights for wiping down seats, seat belts, tray tables, and surrounding areas.
  • Second, flight attendants should make pre-flight announcements requesting passengers to refrain from eating nut products due to passengers with life-threatening nut allergies.  Passengers should be made aware that if nuts are opened and eaten on the aircraft there is a possibility that the plane may need to be diverted from its existing schedule and route to make an emergency landing.
  • Third, establish a nut free section or buffer zone around allergic passengers. (How large that zone needs to be should be determined by nut allergic passenger and flight crew).
  • Finally, require airlines to carry epinephrine auto-injectors — Case in point, there’ve been two situations within recent months where medical personnel had difficulty using epinephrine supplied in airline medical kits on individuals who were in anaphylaxis.

Albeit simple, the trick is how to get the airlines to implement and comply with these measures to protect the millions of people with food allergies.  This is easier said than done especially when our community itself cannot agree on these measures.

During numerous discussions with several top food allergy organizations and advocates, it has become clear that the biggest stumbling block is the request for buffer zones.  Medical advisory boards of these food allergy organizations are hesitant to support buffer zones due to the lack of scientific evidence to prove that airborne reactions can occur.  Herein lies the problem—anecdotal data is all that we have because scientific studies haven’t been performed to determine the health impacts of airborne nut allergies.  Think about it, would you let your child participate in a study where death is a possible outcome?

Leading food allergy researcher Dr. Kari Nadeau of Stanford, says one has to be careful of saying there is “absolutely no risk” of airborne anaphylaxis given the information we have already.  Nadeau points out that data exists from aerochamber studies that may be helpful in determining the risk of airborne reactions.  During these aerochamber studies, people with allergies breathe in certain particles and wait to see when they get symptoms.  According to Nadeau, one can infer some degree of an allergic reaction in the average food allergy patient on an airplane. (Please see information below for specific data)

In November’s Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology,  Dr. Hugh Sampson, one of the lead authors of “Food allergy:  A practice parameter update – 2014” states “the primary exposure to a food allergen for most patients is through ingestion, although some patients can exhibit symptoms after skin contact or inhalation of aerosolized protein.”

During a taped interview several years ago, Ann Munoz Furlong, the founder of the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (now FARE), discusses the dangers of airborne reactions.  Furlong said individuals have died by inhaling their allergen.  She spoke specifically of one man who died after inhaling shrimp and another girl who died as a result of inhaling chick peas. Munoz said, “if you’ve got people opening nuts on a plane, for some individuals it will cause a reaction.”

Even if you find it difficult to support buffer zones, think about the risk of physical exposure when a passenger is sitting in such close quarters with other passengers.   Case in point, college junior Zac Chelini was sitting at the airport waiting to board his flight when a woman sitting next to him opened a package of trail mix which included nuts.  Chelini says the mix spilled everywhere, including on himself.  He immediately went into anaphylaxis, and had to be rushed to the hospital where he received multiple shots of epinephrine.  One wonders what would have been the outcome of this exposure had he been on a plane at 35,000 feet.  No doubt, he would have been protected from this type of exposure had he been sitting in a buffer zone on an airplane.

The solution to addressing food allergies on airlines is to take a proactive stance and unite as a community.  I would encourage each and every one of you who sits on a medical advisory board of a food allergy organization to support these measures, and to allow these organizations to support an initiative in which we all have a stake.  By working together we can ensure that messaging is clear and united.   As long as we have even one voice from this community casting doubt on these measures, we will not move forward.  We need to take action now because even one life lost to anaphylaxis is too many.

*Additional Information on Aerochamber Studies

According to Dr. Kari Nadeau of Stanford University, the following information is hypothetical but one can infer some degree of an allergic reaction in the average food allergy patient on an airplane:

  • The average 747 is about 60,000 cubic feet, so that is 1699 cubic meters.
  • There is data to show that in aero chambers, an allergic person could react with respiratory tract symptoms at between 40-200 nanograms per cubic meter.  That would be 67,960ng in 1699 cubic meters or 40ng per cubic meter in an airplane.
  • There are about 420 seats on a 747, so that means each seat probably takes up about 4 cubic meters (give or take) so that is 160 nanograms in the air around a seat that could possibly induce an allergic reaction.

The following links were used to gather airplane data:
Internal Airplane Dimensions
Cabin Air Systems
Cabin Volume

Special Notes:
*Dr. Kari Nadeau has reviewed this article and has approved its contents.
*Anecdotal evidence has been gathered through personal interviews and/or public records


Dr. Robert Jacobs, an allergist/immunologist, has been studying environmental antigens for 40 years. Much of his work, in recent years, has involved the use of aerochambers. I reached out to him to find out what he could tell us about airborne allergies.

Jacobs Q&A


Want to take Action?  Here’s how you can help.

If you share my concern, I urge you to make your voice heard. Call on your representatives in Washington to support legislation that will protect families with food allergies.  Together, we can be the catalyst for change.

1.  Send the attached letter to your congressman and senator on Capitol Hill.

DC Letter

2. Become a member of one of the following organizations, call them, encourage them to get involved:

3.  Share This Video:  More Than An Inconvenience

4.  Sign and Share This Petition:  NoNutTraveler

 


About Amy Wicker:
Amy Wicker is a journalist and the founder and president of AllergySafeTravel, a not-for-profit travel resource for individuals with food allergies.  She is also an award winning producer.  Her short film “More Than An Inconvenience” that looks at the issue of flying with nut allergies won best short documentary at the LA Film & Script Festival in 2013.   The inspiration for Wicker’s work stems from her experiences with her 10-year-old daughter’s life threatening food allergies.

Wicker has also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  She received her master’s degree in journalism from The American University, Washington, DC, and her undergraduate degree from Butler University, Indiananpolis, IN.

Holiday Travel May See Increase in Allergic Reactions Aboard Planes

November 13, 2014 – As the holiday travel season approaches, more families will be flying.  With the increase in travel comes an increased risk among travelers with food allergies, especially those allergic to nuts.  To that end, we’re encouraging airlines, food allergic travelers and the traveling public to take extra precautions.  This warning comes after four airline passengers went into anaphylaxis on board planes during the summer travel period.   Three of these flights had to make emergency landings.

Even after these incidents, and their impact on operating costs, airlines and government officials are still struggling to find the right solutions.   Just last week, I attended the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Disability Forum in Washington, DC.  This conference looked specifically at how the flying experience could be improved for those with disabilities.  What pleased me the most was that food allergies are finally becoming part of that discussion.

We’re not asking airlines to make big concessions to keep allergy passengers safe.  We simply are asking that airlines make an on-board announcement that passengers should refrain from opening nuts or nut-based snacks for the duration of the flight.

We would also like to see airlines create a buffer zone within the plane that disallows any nuts or snacks with nuts. Here again, the key is for flight crews to be educated on the health implications of an anaphylactic reaction and to allow them the flexibility they need to work with all passengers on board a particular flight.

Here are some travel tips for individuals who are at risk from severe nut allergies.

  • Carry epinephrine auto-injectors / inhalers / Benadryl
  • Use seat cover and wipes to cover or remove any nut residue from other passengers
  • Wear a mask if you may have airborne issues with nut proteins.
  • Think about sitting in the last row of the plane then you’ve only got three rows of passengers in front of you to contend with.
  • Carry extra snacks that don’t contain nuts to mollify other passengers
  • Be forewarned that you may at some point need to leave your buffer zone to use the bathroom or get off the plane.  Be sure to take wipes and/or put on mask when you leave buffer zone.

For those who are traveling without allergies, I always encourage them to eat their nuts or nut products before or after their flight.  There’s no guarantee that flight crews will make an announcement for nut allergic passengers, and the last thing anyone wants to happen is for someone to go into anaphylaxis and for an emergency landing to occur.

I think we can all agree that every life deserves protection.  Until we have a cure, we need to all work together to make this happen.

Have a wonderful, safe holiday season.

Safe Travels

Amy

My Allergy-Friendly Dream Scenario

October 14, 2014 —  Indulge me for just a moment — imagine the following scenario.  My family and I are getting ready to travel to Hawaii.  I go online to make my airline reservation, and there’s a box for me to check to indicate that we will be traveling with a child who has severe nut allergies.  Yet another box pops up that asks whether her allergens are triggered through ingestion only, contact and/or inhalation.  I check all that apply including the risk of inhalation.

Twenty-four hours before our flight’s departure, everyone on our sceduled flight, including ourselves, receives an email from the airline indicating that there will be a person traveling on our flight to Hawaii that has a severe nut allergy.  The airline then requests that all passengers consume their nuts prior to their flight or immediately thereafter.

When we show up at the airport the following day, the check-in agents know who we are and the fact that we are traveling with a young child who has severe nut allergies.  We are then told to go through security and wait for our flight in the allergy-friendly zone that is nut and pet-free.  One hour prior to our departure the airline sends out another text message to all passengers reminding them about the nut allergy and the health risk that’s involved.

Ten minutes prior to boarding, we are allowed on the plane to clean and sanitize my daughter’s seating area.  Prior to departure and while announcements are being made, flight crews again remind travelers about the serious nature of nut allergies.

I, of course, have brought extra snacks for those passengers who may be upset about the request to not eat nuts.  Meanwhile, flight attendants have pulled all snacks containing nut products from their carts.

Right now this is just a dream scenario. But can you imagine what a difference that flying experience would be for the millions of people who have life-threatening nut allergies?

My hope is that we’re a few steps closer to the realization of that dream thanks to the Chicago-based Open Doors Organization, a not-for-profit that advocates on behalf of those with disabilities.   They gave us a platform at the Universal Access in Airports Conference last week to discuss the challenges of flying with nut allergies.

With an audience of about 125 airline representatives and a handful of federal transportation officials, I had the opportunity to talk about our own flying experience – the good, bad and ugly.  I also showed them our movie “More Than An Inconvenience” that looks at the issue of flying with nut allergies.  The audience was receptive and the feedback was positive.

No doubt, this is an area where the airlines are struggling.  If only they would realize that being proactive reduces their liability; it doesn’t increase it.  To that end, the following recommendations were made:

  • Airlines need to have clear, consistent food allergy policies that travelers can rely on.
  • Passengers should be allowed time to pre-board and wipe down surfaces.
  • Announcements should be made about the presence of nut allergic passengers, and the potential health hazard that could result from eating nuts on board
  • Buffer zones should be created.  (More on this topic later as I have concerns about how the peanut industry may respond to this.)
  • Airlines should carry epinephrine auto-injectors.  Case in point, there’ve been two situations within recent months where medical personnel had difficulty using epinephrine supplied in airline medical kits on individuals who were in anaphylaxis.

In conversations with conference attendees about the potential of setting up “allergy-friendly” spaces within the airports that would be free of nuts and animals, I received  some encouraging feedback. For example, the Chicago Department of Aviation now has two yoga rooms, and I proposed that a similar space could be designated as an allergy-friendly zone.

In terms of cabin design, I was fortunate enough to meet a top Boeing designer, and we spent some time talking about how the interior of a plane could be redesigned to protect individuals with severe allergies.  She’s now connected me with the company’s health and safety expert.   They seem interested in the topic, especially in light of the Ebola scare.

On a final note, you may soon be seeing our film “More Than An Inconvenience” in airport terminals around the country.  Some have agreed to show our longer, five minute version of the film while others expressed an interest in a one minute version.

Be on the lookout for this important film, and when you see it, act like a “Nielsen family” and thank airport executives for making this resource available to gain more understanding of the dangers of food allergies.

All in all, the conference was productive, and I look forward to seeing where we are a year from now.

Safe Travels —

Amy

Wishing United’s New Nut Policy Went Further

September 8, 2014 – My initial positive reaction to United’s new policy pertaining to nut allergies as a step in the right direction was somewhat tempered by questions I had about the policy. United’s associate general counsel provided me some additional information that will hopefully help clarify a few things.

United has changed its policy so that flight attendants can pass along a customer’s request to the other passengers sitting nearby.   Now, when a nut allergic passenger boards the plane, they should notify the flight attendant of their nut allergy.  The flight attendant will then ask the passengers sitting nearby to refrain from eating nuts.  This certainly sounds like a buffer zone to me; however, the attorney with whom I spoke says they didn’t feel comfortable with the term “buffer zone” because they didn’t want to create a false sense of security that the space was clean and/or safe.  In addition, he says the airline can’t enforce a buffer zone nor can they deny boarding for passengers who refuse to comply.

We discussed the fact that this policy only pertains to peanuts and not tree nuts, which prompted me to ask about those passengers who have severe tree nut allergies, like my daughter.  He said they wouldn’t be able to remove anything from their carts which contain tree nuts, like trail mix with cashews, for example.

The solution, in my opinion, is when you board the plane you tell the flight attendant that you have a severe “nut” allergy.  You don’t go into details about whether it’s a peanut or tree nut.  We had a great flight crew last year that removed the trail mix from the cart for us.  Here again, I think it’s important to “kill them with kindness” and you’ll be more apt to have their cooperation.

In light of the announcement this week, I received several email messages from airline passengers who were told recently by United flight crews that they weren’t allowed to do anything for nut allergic passengers.  So, how’s it possible that members of the flight crew don’t know about the policy change?  Typically, members of the flight crew receive briefings which cover policy changes and updates prior to the start of their shifts.  The attorney acknowledged that some changes are seen as more important than others, and some pay more attention than others.  Traveling with a copy of United’s policy might not be such a bad idea.

In Other Airline News:

  • Both American and United recently announced changes to their first class meal service.  Both airlines have confirmed that these meals won’t replace their nut service.  You can still expect to find warmed mixed nuts in first class.

As Always, Safe Travels —

Amy

 

Traveling to Ireland? Find out what our guest blogger has to say about it.

August 27 – By Writer and Guest Blogger Tamar Kummal

Recently, my boyfriend and I took a week to travel through Ireland. I’m gluten free, dairy free, and a whole host of other things that I generally have to avoid. So every trip I take, starts the same way: research. I start looking for restaurants that can accommodate gluten free. I figure it’s the best place to start. If they’re good about that food sensitivity, then hopefully they’re aware enough to help me avoid others. I spoke to the travel agent about getting gluten free/dairy free meals on my flights. I had to choose one or the other, of course. But hey, I’m just glad there’s ANY option. And I think it’s always worth asking for everything you need, just so people are aware of what they will eventually need to offer. I emailed every hotel we stayed in to ask about their breakfast buffet accommodating my needs. Here’s what I found. “No problem.” “Of course we can.” “You’re covered.” “Just ask.” Etc. I was excited, (and horrified), to find out that Celiac (or Coeliac as they write it in Ireland) runs rampant across the tiny country. Therefore, every single place we went, big or small, East or West, had notations on their menu about what I could eat. Every sauce is gluten and dairy free. Every soup is gluten and dairy free. I even had an amazing sticky toffee pudding: gluten and dairy free. It was fantastic. Every hotel breakfast, once I said my issues, they ran into the kitchen and brought back soya milk and gluten free toast. Some had gluten free sausages. They could make me special eggs. Anyone would be happy to do anything I asked. But I didn’t ask. I was too busy happily stuffing my face because I could. And their gluten free bread is really good too. No Styrofoam or lead bread. You know the kind. So go to Ireland. Be prepared and enjoy your trip.

Favorite Hotel: The Dunloe, Killarney

Favorite Restaurants:

Dublin: Carluccio’s.

Kilkenny: Hibernian Hotel Bar and Restaurant

Blarney: Mandalay Restaurant

Killarney: Cronin’s Restaurant

Portmagee, Ring of Kerry: The Moorings

Dingle: Goat Street Café (gluten free/dairy free sticky toffee pudding!)

Limerick: The Sage Café.

Tamar Ireland2   Ireland5  Ireland4  Ireland3

You can find out more about Tamar at the following locations:

TamarKummel.blogspot.com

CaptainPurpleProductions.com

**Opinions and viewpoints expressed in this post represent those of the author only, not of AllergySafeTravel.  AST understands that no two allergies are alike and what works for one person may not work for another.  We provide you with this information as a starting point for your research.  **

 

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