Air travel with food allergies can be complicated. Each airline has different food allergy policies, if they have any at all. Each flight crew may handle food allergies differently. And food residue from previous flights cover seats, trays and armrests. Because of this, it is important for people with food allergies to have easy access to epinephrine in case of a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis [anna-fih-LACK-sis] while in the air.
What Is Anaphylaxis?
Sometimes, a severe allergic reaction in the air can’t be avoided. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Skin rashes and itching and hives
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
- Shortness of breath, trouble breathing, wheezing (whistling sound during breathing)
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhea
- Feeling like something awful is about to happen
Nearly one in 50 million Americans is at risk for anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is the only medicine that can treat anaphylaxis. Doctors prescribe epinephrine in the form of an auto-injector so it’s easy to carry and self-administer.
Do Planes Carry Epinephrine?
Currently, planes stock epinephrine in glass vials with hypodermic needles in medical kits that are locked in the cockpit. But auto-injectors offer a much easier way for anyone to administer the medicine, especially in close quarters such as on an airplane.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) advocates for airlines to stock epinephrine auto-injectors on planes. Easy access to epinephrine auto-injectors is important to treat allergic reactions in the air and save lives.
What Is AAFA Doing to Advocate for Epinephrine Auto-Injectors on Planes?
Over the past few years, AAFA and its food allergy division (Kids With Food Allergies) has met with airline representatives, epinephrine auto-injector manufacturers, lawmakers and the Department of Transportation. On Oct. 15, 2019, we also met with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) to discuss epinephrine auto-injectors stocking on planes. Flight attendants are usually the first responders to medical events on planes. They need tools on planes that can help passengers with diagnosed and undiagnosed food allergies.
We discussed challenges with access to emergency epinephrine:
- Drawing up epinephrine in a syringe to inject it can be difficult for anyone to do, but even more challenging while on a flight (especially with turbulence)
- Storing epinephrine auto-injectors in medical flight kits would put them in the cockpit, which could delay administration and delay flights as these are required to be stocked at all times
- Storing epinephrine auto-injectors in first aid kits in the main cabin or another area would put them where flight attendants can access them easily
Having epinephrine auto-injectors on planes would not only benefit people with food allergies, but flight crews as well. They would be able to better handle allergy emergencies in the air.
Have You Had an Allergic Emergency on a Flight?
Have you or your child had a severe allergic reaction on a flight? Send your story to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are collecting stories to share with lawmakers and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to advocate for epinephrine auto-injectors on planes.
AAFA will continue to meet with stakeholders to find a solution that works for passengers, flight crews and airlines. Join our community to stay up to date on AAFA's advocacy efforts for the rights of passengers with food allergies.