Tips on Traveling With Toddlers With Food Allergies – Updated!

Tips on Traveling with Toddlers With Food Allergies Updated

I decided to put my previous post about traveling with food allergies and kids to the ultimate test: I invited fellow travel experts, my Flight Attendant co-workers, to read it and add their two cents.

Based on their input, I made a few additions to my new, improved list of Tips on Traveling With Toddlers With Food Allergies, just in time for Christmas.

For general traveling with kids tips, I highly recommend visiting The Flying Pinto for her fabulous list of ways to prepare kids for airline travel.  

And on the advice of another Mama/Flight Attendant, I’ll share her tip: start teaching your kids early on NOT to kick the seat in front of them!

If you’re traveling, be safe and have fun!  Have a wonderful trip!

UPDATE! 11/20/15

After traveling with my now preschool age kiddos, I added a few more tips at the end. Happy traveling! 

I often get asked questions about traveling with children and traveling with food allergies because traveling is my job.  So just in time for our holiday travel season I thought I would write a complete post with my best tips and advice on the matter.

  1. Yes, you can bring food.  I wouldn’t recommend a soup, but food is completely allowable. In fact, I would strongly recommend you DO pack food in your carry-on, as airport cuisine is far from healthy or allergy friendly, and the airlines that offer food for sale usually don’t have a large variety to choose from. If you have a smartphone, I recommend downloading the I Can Eat On The Go app. It’s not perfect, but if you get stuck and run out of food it will help you find fast food that ‘might’ be okay for your particular food allergy.
  2. Yes, you can bring formula. The TSA is pretty understanding about infant formula; they may run a small test on the outside of the bottle, but they will not – or SHOULD not – test the formula itself. Children have some exemptions on the liquids rule for formula and baby foods, so don’t fret about bringing them along. If you use a powdered formula, you might make things easier for yourself by portioning out the formula into the bottle beforehand and simply buying bottled water in the terminal, but you CAN bring liquid formula through security. If you’d like extra assurance, get a doctors’ note saying this is ALL your child can safely consume. But, it shouldn’t be necessary.
  3. Breastfeeding mothers, you CAN bring your breastpump, ice packs and bagged breastmilk through security – even if you do not have your child with you. Again, they may do a swipe test on the outside of some of your milk bags, but it’s harmless.
  4. So, YES, you can bring ice packs for your food, as well. Dry ice…not recommended. Most airlines themselves have a prohibition on dry ice, as it releases fumes that are not good for people to breathe and that’s kind of a problem when confined to a small space for a few hours.
  5. I’d recommend buying one or two large medical ice BAGS at a pharmacy and bringing those along. Once you’re through security, you can stop at a restaurant and ask to fill your bags with ice. Backups for your ice packs is a good idea. DO NOT wait to do this until you’ve boarded your flight! Airlines are all about making money, and they’ve gotten downright stingy with catering supplies. Ice isn’t weightless, and they have calculated how much ice is ‘standard’ for each flight and provide exactly that amount. So Flight Attendants may not have any ice to give you, especially if you wait to ask until after the first beverage service is completed! (If you need more, ask for it – if they have it, they will give it to you. They just might not have it, so be forewarned.)
  6. On that note, please be aware that there are no refrigerators on aircraft. When something needs cool temperatures, it will simply get tossed on top of ice bags in a bucket. So you’re far better off bringing ice bags in an insulated cooler.
  7. On the warmer side of things, there are NO microwaves on an airplane. There are convection ovens and hot water spigots and that is IT.  So if you have food that needs heating before eating, look for an airport restaurant that would be willing to ‘nuke it before your flight and put it in its own insulated bag. You’ll frequently find a Flight Attendant that would be willing to heat your food in the ovens if you ask, but if the airline didn’t provide oven-safe bowls, you are out of luck. So if you insist on waiting until you’re on the plane, then make sure you packed your food in an oven-safe bowl and bring your own aluminum foil for the top. Packing a pot holder isn’t a bad idea, either; if catering didn’t provide oven-safe bowls for the flight, they probably didn’t provide pot holders.
  8. Those of you whose children are not dairy allergic, please do NOT depend on the airline to provide milk for your children. Flight Attendants are often given only 3-5 small containers of milk to serve to 120 or more people; just using it as a coffee creamer can completely wipe out our supply in one beverage service on a morning flight! We are happy to give it to you – if we have it. But don’t put your children in a position where they can’t have their only acceptable non-water beverage because all the businessmen take milk in their coffees: buy some in the terminal before you board.
  9. Expect the unexpected! You never know when a mechanical problem or a weather disturbance will unravel your travel plans. BRING EXTRA FOOD. Bring enough food, in fact, to survive at least 3 meals, even if your flight is scheduled to be between mealtimes. Airlines are incredibly conscious of extended tarmac delays, but the “best laid plans do oft go awry” and the last thing you need is to be stuck between a starving child and food that makes them sick. It won’t go bad – you can use it when you arrive, but it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
  10. On that note, pack extra clothes and diapers. Airlines no longer have diapers on board (except on some international flights) and again, you don’t want to be in that position. You never know what will happen to your clothing, either, so a spare for everyone traveling is worth its weight in gold if needed.
  11. Use carseats. I know, I know, it’s a major pain in the tushie to haul your carseat through the airport and on the plane, but it’s (strictly MY opinion here) safer to have your child strapped in properly, not to mention FAR more comfortable for you to endure a plane ride without having to hold a squiggle worm the whole time! Invest in a carseat bag to get it through the airport. We have one similar to this backpack style, and I’ve also seen some that are on wheels so you can actually wheel your child through the aiport. If you’d really still prefer to not bring your carseat on the plane itself, one fellow crewmember recommended the CARES harness for inflight. That looks so good to me, I’m thinking about getting one for Mr. Charm!
  12. If your child pushes the Flight Attendant Call Light, simply push the button again to turn it off. This saves the Flight Attendants from constantly coming to your seat for no reason, and eliminates the “boy who cried wolf” problem (yes, if you constantly push the button for no reason – or a silly reason – we WILL stop responding immediately and you don’t want that in case you actually do have an emergency). Then tell your child to stop pushing that button! Thanks in advance.  🙂
  13. Please don’t use the Flight Attendants as enforcers. Your child does need to be buckled in at certain times, and we can’t stand there as a prison warden to make sure your kiddo stays buckled in. We’ll back you up, but we can’t ‘become the parent’ – we have to parent the other 120 adults on the plane, too!
  14. Bring toys. Bring headphones. Bring extra batteries. ‘Nuff said.
  15. Decide for yourself how you want to time your flight. My kiddos are absolutely entranced by everything aiport/airplane related. There are people! And buttons! And knobs! And STUFF! Sleep is SO not going to happen for my kiddos, no matter how tired they are. (Except, perhaps, on a middle of the night flight.) So it’s pointless for me to try to fly during normal naptimes; they won’t sleep but will be exhausted, and then we’ll ALL be miserable. I try to fly during normal awake times for this reason. If your kids are awesome and will sleep no matter when, no matter where…then try to schedule your flights during naptimes.  Easier on everyone that way.
  16. Pick up some utensils at an airport restaurant before boarding your flight. Often flights are not provided with eating utensils. It would stink to have food but no way to eat it (except your hands.  Ew.).
  17. Don’t feel bad if you use a leash.
    Mr. Happy’s First Airplane Ride!

    Mr. Charm is fearless (have I mentioned that before?) and would think nothing of leaving Mama and Daddy in the dust as he boarded a flight to Istanbul. (I actually did this to my Mom when I was about his age. I had strapped myself in to a first class seat on a flight to Mexico City before she could convince the gate agents that her daughter had darted past them and they let her down to get me!)  There are too many distractions in an airport and too much activity to try and ride herd on an adventurous, fearless toddler without losing your mind. Throw the leash on; it won’t kill them and honestly? Most people will make comments like “I wish they’d had those when my kids were little!” If you get the stink-eye, just blow it off. It’s not like we’ll leash our kids to go to the grocery store.  Airports are just a whole different ball-game.

  18. Pillow pets are awesome. Airplanes don’t usually have blankets and pillows any more, and if your kiddo gets tired, having one of each is welcome. Not to mention, climate control on an airplane is notoriously finicky. If you get cold, you’re out of luck unless you bring a blanket for yourself. (I usually travel with a large shawl that can double as a blanket if needed, but for kiddos, the pillows with a blanket insert is ideal!)
  19. Early is the theme of the day! Get to the airport early, get to your gate early, and board the aircraft early. Being early will eliminate that rushed, panicked feeling you get when running late, and give you the time to allow your kids to run up to a window exclaiming “COOL” and not lose your temper at them for being in awe. Not to mention, if you board the aircraft as early as possible, you’ll be able to let your kids go visit the Flight Deck (aka the Cockpit). Kids LOVE that – usually – and in almost 15 years of working on airplanes, I have to say there’s a 97% chance the Pilots will eat. it. up. They think they’re God, after all, so having a little guy or girl ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over them and their workspace just tickles them to no end! (I’m teasing you, Pilots!) Actually, Pilots are usually madly in love with flying, and LOVE to pass ‘the bug’ on to young kids. So they’ll almost always let the kids come up and show them buttons, and I’ve even seen Pilots let kids make an announcement on the PA, push buttons (that don’t do anything but make a noise), sit in the Captains seat for a photo, and sometimes they’ll even let them wear their Captain hat, too. Which brings us to…
  20. Keep your camera ready. Kids do fun stuff in airports, and you don’t want to miss a photo op!  One really cool thing I’ve seen parents do is create a Flight Log for their kids. They hand it to the Flight Attendants and ask the whole crew to sign it and share information about the flight. I’ve seen some AMAZINGLY detailed entries; we do get down time during the flight and Pilots and Flight Attendants are always willing to humor travel aficionados.
  21. And as always, bring your Epi-pen and dipenhydramine with you! There should be no trouble getting them through security, and you don’t want to need them at 30,000 feet and not have them!
  22. FOR OLDER KIDDOS: get them their own suitcase on wheels. They love feeling “all grown up” wheeling their little suitcase through the airport, and it frees up your hands for other things. They can put their pillow pet, entertainment, and toys in their bag and save the space in Mommy and Daddy’s suitcases!
  23. Brush up on your airport/airplane/flying knowledge beforehand, or be willing to stop employees and ask them questions. Your kiddos will come up with a million questions about what they’re seeing, and it would be a crying shame to miss this golden opportunity to teach them new things while they’re desperate for the knowledge!
  24. On that note, consider keeping tablets, DVD’s, and other devices in reserve and bringing a deck of cards or other non-electronic entertainment for your kids. It’s rare in this day and age that a family can completely “unplug” from the world and spend some quality time together talking, playing games, and truly interacting. While WiFi and DirectTV are on most airplanes these days, try to seize the opportunity of confined quarters and a bulk of time to actually talk to your kids. They love it!
  25. If your kiddo won’t be able to drink anything off the bar cart, make sure to grab some “paint with water” books before you leave home. You can let your kiddo ask the Flight Attendant for a glass of water just like everyone else so they feel like they’re fully participating in the world around them. They just use that water to paint with instead of drink! (And wash their hands afterwards, of course!)

Whew!  I don’t know how much help this will be to anyone; a lot of it falls under the category of “Be Prepared and Plan Ahead”.  It’s easy to forget some of these things, though, when you haven’t traveled in a while.

If you have any questions about traveling with food allergies, or traveling with kids, or if you have any tips of your own to share, PLEASE let me know!

Happy traveling this holiday season!  

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