New Heights: Flying Safely with Peanut Allergies

Much to my dismay, peanuts have become just as synonymous with flying on commercial airlines as they are with American baseball games – And its a travel nightmare.

According to a recent publication for the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research (CFAAR), 98% of respondents reported some level of anxiety about airline travel due to their physician diagnosed food allergy – And I was one of them.

As a twenty-something young professional in The Windy City, I find myself flying solo every few months for destination weddings, college football games, and warm weekend getaways. As an anxious flyer (Okay, anxious person), peanut residue on airplane seatbelts is just salt in the wound. Instead of missing out on bestie’s bachelorette party or family holidays in Disney World, I have created a foolproof plan to keep my travel experiences clean and comfortable.

Choosing your Airline

As of August 2018, Southwest Airlines ceased serving peanuts on all of their commercial flights! Southwest Airlines, with a long history of serving peanuts in connection to their Texas roots, recognized the inherent danger that regularly serving this snack caused the food allergy community. In their announcement, Southwest stated “We’ll miss the peanuts, but, at the end of the day, it’s our Southwest Employees and the Hospitality they deliver that set us apart, far more than peanuts ever could.” This is exactly why I became a loyal customer. But they certainly tested my patience, because in September 2022, Southwest Airlines discontinued their pre-boarding policy for food allergies. However, after only two months and significant backlash from our community, Southwest reversed that decision and have reinstated pre-boarding for food allergies as of November 2022. You can read more about their decision here.

If their inconsistency left a bad taste in your mouth, check out United Airlines or Jet Blue instead. Neither company serves peanut products with their in-flight dining services, but they also offer priority boarding. While Delta Airlines does serve peanuts in-flight, they adhere to a pre-boarding policy and offer a six row buffer zone.

Packing Cleaning Supplies

Ziplocks, ziplocks, ziplocks. When preparing my carry on bag before a flight, I put together a disposable bag of cleaning supplies so I am prepared to pre-board the plane. Inside I include…

  • Nice N’ Clean Wipes : As proud supporter of FARE, Nice N’ Clean wipes advertise as being capable of removing 99% of peanut residue from hard surfaces. When I first found these at my local CVS, I bought every single pack at the store.
  • Disposable Rubber Globes : Disposable rubber gloves add an extra layer of protection when wiping down my seat. You never know what was eaten there right before you!
  • Heavy Duty Trash Bag: I don’t know about you, but I am always trying to guess if the crumbs at my feet are pieces of Goldfish crackers or something more sinister. Because airlines require you to stow your baggage during take off and landing, I place my carryon item in a plastic garbage bag under the seat as an extra precaution.
  • Seat Sitters Disposable Seat Cover : After wiping down my row, I lay a disposable cover over my seat for one last layer of protection. All of the strange looks from fellow passengers is worth the peace of mind – And they assume I am protecting against COVID-19 anyways!
  • Individually Wrapped Trip Wipes : This Detroit based brand makes the perfect cleaning supplies for on-the-go. Their individually wrapped wipes are my preferred manor of hand washing after sanitizing the plane.

Wearing Medical Alert Jewelry

Medical alert jewelry is essential, especially for passengers flying solo. Whether you sport a necklace, bracelet, wallet card, or backpack tag, medial alert jewelry gives first responders a head start in case of an emergency.

If you are looking to splurge, Well Aware offers customizable + engraved bracelets to match any outfit. Have an Apple Watch or Disney Magic Band? MyID sells personalized plastic sleeves that fit right onto your wrist watch. My first pieces came from Lauren’s Hope, who offer pages of endless jewelry designs on their website.

In addition to your medical alert jewelry, be sure to set up your Medical ID card on your smart phone. In settings, you can permitted first responders to access your medical ID from your phone’s lock screen, in case of an emergency. Apple allows you to add your allergies, medications, blood type and emergency contacts in the medical notes.

Advocating for Yourself

I have opened up in other blog posts about my struggle with food allergies + mental health – And airports are no exception. In fact, my contamination anxiety is often most crippling during air travel. Horror stories of anaphylactic reactions and families being removed from flights only adds to my preexisting nerves. But we deserve to feel safe – So that’s where self advocacy comes in.

I pass through security with a mobile ticket on my phone, but once I arrive at my gate, I head to the Southwest desk attendant to print my boarding pass. The “Peanut Dust” distinction I mentioned earlier is unfortunately not visible on the ticket in the Apple Wallet. With a physical copy of my boarding pass, I triple check my pre-boarding eligibility with the staff member who scans our tickets before the boarding process begins.

When boarding the plane solo, I immediately inform the flight attendants about my allergies. But important to note: Southwest Airlines does not make an in-flight announcement about allergies on board. Instead, I personally ask the passengers around me if they are willing to refrain from eating nuts throughout the flight. It sometimes feels awkward to interrupt a stranger trying to stow their bag in the overhead bin, but not one person has ever given me a hard time.

Too often I have suffered in silence when I was afraid to speak up. But The Hivey League is worthy of a reminder that prioritizing our health and safety is never selfish. Your peace of mind outweighs any negativity, ridicule, or judgement from others.

Words of Wisdom

  • Book a morning flight. Even though the early wakeup call might feel impossible, most airlines are sanitized at night, awarding you a much cleaner plane when you board.
  • Avoid eating on your shorter flights. Keeping food out of your mouth is a sure way to minimize the risk of a reaction. But if you find yourself getting hungry on long travel days, be sure to pack your own safe snacks. I have been known to keep an 88 Acres seed + oat bar (or five) in my backpack at all times.
  • Pack multiple auto injectors from several different manufacturing batches. I throw four Epi Pens into my carryon bag alongside my inhaler and a bottle of antihistamines.
  • Listen to an in-flight meditation. Headspace offers a short relaxation video specifically catered towards flying anxiety that I download on Spotify before takeoff.
  • Bring a portable charger in your carryon for planes without outlets. Southwest Airlines have its flaws, but don’t we all?! I have been loving this MagSafe Battery Pack from Apple.

Enjoy Your Trip!

Too anyone who is nervous to take flight with allergies – You are not alone. But we deserve to be on that plane just as much as anyone else. Please do not hesitate to reach out directly with any further questions. comments, or concerns. Until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy your trip!

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