To everyone that knows me and my family, you know how much we LOVE Walt Disney World. I have been vacationing in Disney since I was 7 years old and over 20 years later, it is still my all time favorite place to be. I experienced first boyfriends, hard break ups and where I fell head over heels in love with my husband, all at my second home. Dan and I got engaged right in front of the castle in 2014 while my parents took pictures of us and then rushed us onto the It’s a Small World ride. We took the most amazing honeymoon where we over ate, enjoyed spa treatments and went to every single park. Twice! When Dan and I found out we were pregnant we ended up back in Disney to announce our little girl coming in November of that year and then, of course, took one last hooray baby moon in Disney before Olivia arrived. So, needless to say, we knew we couldn’t wait to take our little girl to Disney!
When we finally decided it was time to take her to the most magical place on earth, we were filled with excitement – I may have cried happy tears – but they quickly turned to tears of fear and nerves! In order to get to Disney World we would need to take a plane. (I know we could have driven but Olivia is NOT a fan of the car seat so that would have been one miserable 20+ hours). Ive heard so many horror stories of people with food allergies having a really hard time on airplanes. As all allergy moms do, I took a deep dive into the internet to find out how to go about boarding a plane with a child that is allergic to so much. I was picturing being trapped inside a giant metal box full of other people eating sandwiches, peanuts, trail mix and drinking milk! I was filled with overwhelming anxiety and dread and seriously contemplated if going to Disney was even worth putting her through something that was potentially so dangerous.
So, I spoke with my allergist, talked with other allergy moms and read up on all of the many allergy Facebook sites I follow and put together a game plan that made me feel much more in control. Here is what we did to prepare for Olivia’s very first flight with severe food allergies!
- Mark ALLERGY on the ticket!
After doing a lot of research, I found that JetBlue had a really good reputation for accommodating people with food allergies so we chose to book our flight with them. When we finally found a price that matched our budget, we started the process to book the tickets. When you get to the page where you enter your name and other general information, there is a place where you can specify if you have any allergies! Here you can specify that you or your child have a nut allergy.
2. Call the airline to confirm
We also called the airline about 2 weeks prior to our trip to confirm that our tickets stated Olivia’s severe food allergies. This is when we were told that not only would she be safe on the flight but that Jet Blue participates in something called “buffer zones” which means that they will ask the 2 rows in front of you and 2 rows behind you to refrain from eating any nut products and if those passengers can’t comply, they will move their seats. This made me so excited – a safe space for Olivia!
3. Hit up Amazon!!
Besides the fact that I will never pass up the opportunity to shop at Amazon, they sell different items that can help keep people with allergies safe and comfortable while flying! We stocked up on Wet Ones Wipes for Sensitive Skin and table mats to cover the seat tray with! We also purchased a seat cover that covered the entirety of the airline seat I was sitting in. This kept all of the surfaces around us clean and safe for Olivia to touch. Considering my seat was COVERED in cheese nips when I got on the plane, I was thrilled to have the wipes and seat cover to separate Olivia and I from any dairy proteins. And the airplane cover came in handy when Olivia would stand on my lap to see that adorable baby sitting behind us! – also not to worry, the seat cover did not cover the TV of the person behind us – my husband was nervous.
4. Wipe everything!
When you get on the plane, wipe EVERYTHING. Wipe your seat, the windows, the tray table in front of you, the hand rail, etc. If it is in reaching distance, WIPE IT. You will feel a huge sense of relief when you know everything is clean and anywhere your kiddo can touch is safe! Put the airplane seat cover down and settle in. You got this :).
5. Pack so many snacks!
Before we left on our trip, Dan and I cooked up turkey breast and sweet potatoes in large quantities to take onto the plane. We also made a big batch of chocolate chip pancakes and strawberries for breakfast the next day. As long as you have an ice pack that is completely frozen, you can bring food through TSA. Let them know what is in your lunch box and they will check it out and send you on your way. We also packed enjoy life cookies, GoGo Squeeze apple sauce pouches, puffs and teether cookies so that way we didn’t have to worry about giving Olivia any outside food on the plane. We wanted to be sure Olivia only ate food we gave her as to minimize any outside risk of hidden allergens in her food. She ended up eating her dinner and snacking through the entire flight!
6. Come prepared with activities galore!
Due to Olivia’s food allergies we could not allow her to walk up and down the aisle or really get up at all. We couldn’t control the food around us so she needed to stay in one spot. Other than her many snacks, we were so grateful to have her iPad loaded with lots of Disney movies, a sticker book with crayons, my phone with lots of videos of her – her new favorite past time – and a small bag of her favorite teether toys. Since she didn’t sleep at all on the flight to Orlando, rotating through these activities kept her attention and deterred her from wanting to roam around too much.
7. Don’t be afraid to speak up
Remember how I said on point #2 that Jet Blue was going to create a safe space for Olivia and that had given me so much peace? Well…I let the flight attendent at the gate know of Olivia’s allergy and she assured me that it was in their chart and we would be all set. So we boarded the plane, I set us all up and we waited to hear more about this buffer zone…but nothing happened. The pilot came over the speaker and said nothing about a peanut allergy on board. And what’s worse…the woman sitting next to us had a giant bag of MIXED NUTS. Yup. You read that right…mixed nuts. Lucky for us, her television wasn’t working and she opted to move her seat minutes into the flight. I was so upset that nothing was done to acknowledge my daughters life threatening food allergy but…we said nothing. We should have spoken up to the flight attendants. We should have drawn more attention to our situation and that is a lesson learnt and a mistake we will never make again.
On the flight home, we were much more vocal. We spoke with multiple flight attendants and when we boarded we were met with the complete opposite situation. The flight attendants spoke to the 2 rows in front and 2 rows behind us to inform them all that there were to be no nuts eaten at all in this area. There was of course some push back – but Jet Blue stayed strong and offered to move their seat if they felt they really needed to eat nuts. They made us feel heard, safe and comfortable and that is really all we can ask for. The flight attendant approached us at the end of the flight to make sure everything went well and that our little princess was feeling okay. All in all, I would choose Jet Blue all over again – but I would just remember to speak up!
8. Take a deep breath
This last note is TOUGH. Flying with a food allergy is so hard. People really don’t understand the severity of a food allergy. The woman in front of us huffed and puffed and fought with the flight attendant for her nuts. And unfortunately one of the boys on the other side of our row dumped an entire bag of nuts on the ground during the flight. People do not understand or respect the nature of food allergies but we are getting there. Luckily we can control a lot of the flying experience and can do everything we can to keep each other safe. So, after you are set up, wiped and ready to take off, take a deep breath. My husband reminded me of this at least 3 times during the flight and its something I will no tell you: know you did everything you possibly could and that everything is going to be okay.
I hope these tips help you and your family when you are faced with your first or next flight! Over the next couple weeks, we will be posting about all things Disney with food allergies! In the meantime, we will just keep advocating!