New Recommendations Regarding Air Travel with Food Allergies

Responding to a Ministerial Inquiry regarding the management of food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame seeds on Canadian airlines, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) recently released a report.

The findings will be incorporated into future CTA actions which could include the “development of standards, either regulatory or voluntary performance-based ones, and guidance material to address the issue on a systemic basis.”

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Food Allergy Canada (FAC), a stakeholder in the process, reported the following findings by the CTA and followed each with a salient recommendation:

Stock epinephrine

Air carriers are not required to carry “stock” epinephrine, an auto-injector (e.g. EpiPen®) that is not prescribed to an individual, but can be used by non-medical professionals to treat anyone experiencing a severe allergic reaction.

FAC’s recommendations:
Currently, many aircrafts carry vials of epinephrine, which require a medical professional to administer. We recommend all aircrafts carry stock epinephrine auto-injectors, which are meant to be used by non-medical professionals, to help treat a reaction.

Flight crew training

Train flight crews on signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.

FAC’s Recommendations:
Mandatory training for in-flight staff, which would include how to identify signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction; what to do in an emergency (using a standard protocol); and proper use of epinephrine auto-injectors.
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Buffer zone

Create a buffer zone consisting of the row the allergic passenger is in and not serving meals or snacks containing peanuts, nuts or sesame seeds in the buffer zone.

FAC’s Recommendations:
Retain buffer zones requirements currently in place with Canadian airline providers, until additional research is conducted to advise on the effectiveness of buffer zones.

In-flight announcement

Advise other passengers within the buffer zone that they must refrain from eating peanuts, nuts or sesame seeds or foods containing them.

FAC’s Recommendations:
Make a cabin-wide announcement, upon a passenger’s request, informing other passengers that there is someone on board with peanut, nut or sesame seed allergies. Passengers may be asked to refrain from consuming these products during the flight.

Communication with passengers with food allergies

Advise passengers who provide advanced notification of their allergies about safety measures they can take, such as carrying their EpiPens® and bringing their own food.

FAC’s Recommendations:
Upon booking and again at check-in on the day of travel, inform the passenger of the airline’s allergy policy, including a reminder for the person to carry their EpiPens® onboard and bring their own food for the flight.
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Seat Area Cleaning

Allow passengers to pre-board to wipe down their seating areas.

FAC’s Recommendations:
Have specific protocols for airline staff in place for cleaning areas of an aircraft where a person with allergies is to be seated and provide passengers with the option of pre-boarding so they have the opportunity to clean the area themselves with cleaning wipes.

Website information

Have allergy policies on air carrier websites.

FAC’s Recommendations:
Have written policies and procedures in place for accommodating passengers with food allergies, which are easily accessed on air carrier websites. This provides travellers with food allergies the information they need to make informed decisions prior to booking their flight and plan accordingly.

We commend Food Allergy Canada on their recommendations and urge US carriers to follow suit by adopting similar protocols to help safeguard their passengers with food allergies.

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