• Tue, Apr 9 2013

Twinning: Taking My Peanut-Allergic Son Over The Atlantic Went Way Better Than I Expected

peanut allergy kidsHaving twins can be the most amazing experience of your life. It can also cause you to wake up in the morning wishing you were someone else. Twinning offers an honest depiction of life with twins from a mom who tries to keep things somewhere in the middle.

Flying to Europe to visit my husband’s family is something I didn’t even consider when my twins were infants, mainly because it would have been too much work. Just driving to the mall with twinfants was a huge hassle for me, so taking a six-hour plane trip with them was not even up for discussion. When they were 16 months old, I discovered that my son Nick had a severe peanut allergy and suddenly, flying anywhere seemed nearly impossible.

As our family became used to life with a peanut allergy we navigated the difficulties presented by restaurants, preschool, playdates and birthday parties, but flying remained a dark cloud hovering in the distance. With in-laws in England and France however, I knew that getting my kids on a plane was not something I could put off forever.

This past November, we finally did it—flying from New York to London with our 6-year-old twins. I cancelled the trip a million times in my head. The thought of Nick having an anaphylactic reaction 30,000 feet over the ocean with nowhere to land and get medical help triggered a voice in my head to immediately shriek, “No we cannot do this! This is a massive mistake!”

But then another voice would calmly say, “Unless he eats or touches a peanut, an anaphylactic reaction is impossible” because Nick does not have an airborne allergy (where I’d need to worry about peanut dust in the air or someone opening a pack of peanuts near him). His allergic reactions to nuts are from ingestion and contact. It’s hard for me to envision a situation that has the potential to take my beautiful son’s life away without spiraling into a blind panic. But the rational side of me knew that this situation was entirely doable, and, if well-managed, it would even be safe.

We booked a flight with Virgin Atlantic, which has a reasonable peanut policy: peanuts are “not knowingly” included in any meals or snacks, but they cannot prohibit other passengers from bringing peanuts on board and eating them. I called the airline and ordered nut-free meals for me, my husband and my daughter, and I cancelled Nick’s meals entirely—I planned to pack everything Nick would eat on the plane, effectively eliminating any chance of a reaction.

I started preparing for the trip the same way I prepare for everything: by researching my ass off.

A book that has helped me navigate many day-to-day situations over the years is How To Manage Your Child’s Life-Threatening Food Allergies by Linda Marienhoff Coss. It’s no beach-read, but it’s a great source of usable info and tips. I also leaned heavily on the astounding resources available on the Internet, especially the forums and blogs of other parents with PA kids who had already flown the friendly skies and all lived to tell about it. As I researched, I wrote up a huge list of things I needed to do and buy, and I started building up my arsenal.

Two weeks before the trip, I was teetering on the edge of panic again, so I called Virgin Atlantic for reassurance. I explained that this was our first trip and I was terrified about my son’s safety. The lovely British woman I spoke with calmed me down immensely, saying that Virgin has been “peanut free” for two years, so the planes were clean. She also said that every day they have umpteenth passengers with nut allergies, and since it’s known and well-understood, it is “absolutely not a problem.”

Those words, combined with an upper-class British accent, reassured the crap out of me.

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  • Julezz

    So I take it you aren’t pretending that your daughter has a peanut allergy anymore?

    • lin

      This was my first thought as well – but, honestly, having a kid with a life-threatening allergy must be terrifying. I don’t agree with her lying about it, for many reasons, but I can’t imagine how hard it would be for her.

    • Julezz

      Oh, I can completely understand how terrifying it must be. I know it cant compare, but my best friend (I’ve known her since kindergarten) has a life thretening peanut allergy, and she has described on several occasions the near misses she has had because she thought she could let her guard down for a second.
      I just wondered if she had told her daughter that she doesn’t have one yet. It was a legitimate question, perhaps I should have phrased it better :$

    • Gloria Fallon

      Hi, no worries about wording…I appreciate your comments! I told Allie she outgrew her allergy when she was four, but she still is very careful to avoid nuts because she knows how serious it is. :)

    • lin

      Sorry, perhaps I put my own feelings onto your words. Because I do have an issue with lying to kids, and everyone else. It was a legitimate question.

  • LadyClodia

    My 4 year old son has peanut and almond allergies, although neither are life-threatening (I’d still rather not find out how bad his reaction could be, though.) We’ll be flying to and spending some time in France and then visiting family in The Netherlands this September, and I’m pretty worried about his allergies. I hadn’t really considered the plane ride, but as long as I order peanut/nut-free meals, I think we’ll be ok. I’m more worried about screening his food and communicating about his allergies while we’re on the ground. Peanuts are usually easier to avoid or at least are usually more obvious, but I know that in The Netherlands, at least, a lot of baked goods have almonds, marzipan, or almond extract in them. The last time we travelled he was still pretty young and was not an adventurous eater (and we didn’t know about his allergies,) but this time it’s going to be a lot harder. He is good about telling people about his allergies and avoiding nuts, but he’s still only 4, so it’ll be hard to tell him that he can’t have a cookie or whatever if someone offers him one. Plus, neither my husband or I speak French, so I’m nervous about that. That, and getting my husband’s family to take our son’s allergies seriously and be careful about them.

    • MAB321

      Contrary to many stereotypes, I have found that the French are actually very accommodating and helpful to those with allergies and eating restrictions. I hope this holds true for your family as well. I first went to France as an exchange student in high school, and initially had very limited knowledge of the language. I am a vegetarian with nut and shellfish allergies, and everyone was beyond helpful once I informed them of my unique eating preferences and allergies. I am very close with my French host family and have both visited them and toured all over the country many times over the years, often bringing along non French speaking friends/boyfriends. In French ” Je suis allergique aux cacahuetes” is I am allergic to peanuts. Saying “Je suis allergique aux noix,” I am allergic to nuts can be translated as I am allergic to nuts or specifically walnuts so be careful with that. Mon fils est allergique à toutes les noix (fruits à coque) et aux cacahuètes. This translates as “My son is allergic to all tree nuts and peanuts and might be better since it’s all encompassing. Better be safe than sorry! I would suggest writing down his specific allergies on a notecard in both French and English and presenting this to every waiter/cashier/etc before ordering for your son. This will ensure that they are aware of the fact and can suggest items for him accordingly. Good luck on your upcoming travels! Bon voyage!

    • LadyClodia

      Thank you for your advice and the French phrases! Yes, it probably would be easier include all nuts just to be safe.

  • Ipsedixit

    Why would the flight crew know about a peanut allergy if you haven’t told them directly? Gate agents are busy taking care of the other couple hundred passengers, all equally as important and with their own issues as your own.

    • http://www.facebook.com/skyebellematilda.brand Skye Belle Matilda Brand

      when I worked in the tourism industry we would make notes on files so that if someone goofus something like PEANUT ALLERGY or NERVOUS TRAVELLER we would make a note of it. If this had been done the cabin crew would absolutely know, just like they probably knew if there were any vegetarians or kosher meals required!

  • http://www.xojane.co.uk/author/alisande Alisande F

    Virgin Atlantic are excellent when it comes to kids and customer service. So glad it all went smoothly and you enjoyed the holiday!

  • http://www.facebook.com/skyebellematilda.brand Skye Belle Matilda Brand

    My DD is allergic to wheat (not coeliacs, just a wheat allergy) & it it SO HARD to get people to take this seriously! They look at me like I’m making it up to be a pain in the arse & I’ve lost count of how many times her food has been contaminated.

    I’m pleased that your allergy isn’t dismissed but I suspect it has more to sowing fear of legal action if they kill your kid. Apparently three days of excruciating gut pains & horrible bowl motions isn’t bad enough to warrant a little extra care being taken!

    • yup

      A girl I went to school with was allergic to milk. and someone didn’t take her seriously – thought she just was lactose intolerant, and she died.
      Make them take it seriously!!

  • http://currach.johnjtierney.com/ JJT

    We have two children with allergies to all nuts, so haven’t been looking forward to flying anywhere with them. Glad to read your article and hear it doesn’t have to be as tough as I imagine it could be!

  • no nut traveler

    I am the mother of a peanut allergic child who based on the experience below, is now scared to fly.

    The commercial airline industry lacks a consistent policy concerning peanut and tree nut allergies, and this inconsistency puts children at risk. There is a sad history of intimidation involving the DOT (Department of Transportation) and the peanut industry and their lobbyists, and the various attempts at legislation have been quashed.

    Last week, the NJ Senate Transportation committee advanced a resolution urging commercial airlines to implement and enact effective polices concerning peanuts on flights. My son Joshua and I testified at the committee hearing. I have also launched a website for all those with nut allergies who want to be informed and proactive about travel. Please see: http://www.nonuttraveler.com

    The NY Times recently wrote an article about our journey http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/14/what-should-airlines-do-about-children-with-peanut-allergies/?_r=1&