What are the allergy rules on planes?

Credit: British Airways

By ITV News Producer Hannah Ward-Glenton

Love Island star Jack Fowler is calling for nuts to be excluded from in-flight menus after he claimed he could have died when they featured in a meal he was served.

The 28-year-old said “complete negligence” from Emirates airline left him with the “real possibility of dying” after he claimed there were nuts in his on-board meal, despite flagging his severe allergy.

The reality TV star said he made the flight attendant aware of his nut allergy before being given a chicken curry which saw his throat “immediately” close up and his breathing become “extremely difficult”.

So what exactly are the rules around allergies on planes?

Are there global rules?

Not exactly. Each airline has its own policies when it comes to how it manages the needs of passengers with allergies. There is no guidance as to which foods airlines should and should not carry onboard on the basis of allergens.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says allergen-sensitive passengers "should do everything in their power" to prevent severe allergic reactions, but also provides the following general medical guidance for airlines to follow.

“An airplane shall be equipped with accessible and adequate medical supplies," it says.

"Each national authority must meet the general standard, but when it comes to details (e.g. first aid kit or emergency medical kit contents), this may be very different from one State to the other. A similar situation applies to training.

"The ICAO standard requires that an airline establish and maintain a training program that shall ensure that each member of cabin crew is drilled and capable in the use of the emergency and life-saving equipment that is required to be carried."

The details of the training vary from country to country, as do the types of medical equipment required to be carried onboard.

IATA does not provide any further allergen-specific guidance.

What do different airlines say?

Most airlines ask customers to tell cabin crew about any allergies when boarding a flight.

In the case of nut allergies, many will then ask passengers to not open any products containing nuts and will not sell products featuring nuts for the duration of that particular flight.

Most warn that they cannot guarantee a flight will be completely free of any specific allergens.

Airlines make the following comments on allergens onboard their flights, with more information available on each individual website:

  • British Airways: "British Airways cannot guarantee an allergen-free cabin environment or prevent other passengers from bringing their own food on board";

  • easyJet: "We'll do all we can to help, but we cannot guarantee a nut or allergen-free environment on board our aircraft";

  • Emirates: "We can’t guarantee our meals are nut free. We serve nuts on all our flights, either as a meal ingredient or as an accompaniment to drinks";

  • Lufthansa: "We cannot guarantee that our aircraft and the food served on board are completely free of peanuts or peanut products or that passengers do not bring products containing peanuts on board with them. The same also applies to other foodstuffs that may cause an allergic reaction."

  • Ryanair: "While other customers are asked not to open peanut products on board, Ryanair cannot guarantee a peanut-free aircraft";

  • Virgin Atlantic: "We cannot guarantee the absence of food allergen or peanut traces in our meals, both on board and at the airport. A list of food allergens contained in meals served on flights departing from the UK and USA is available on board from your Cabin Crew."

Links to a wider range of airlines' statements on allergies can be found here.

Will all allergens be labelled?

Food labelling laws vary from country to country, which means products sold onboard planes may not conform to the same strict food labelling laws companies in the UK have to follow.

What should you do when travelling with allergies?

Allergy UK provides the following tips for flying if you have allergies:

  • Before booking your holiday, check an airline's policy on food allergies so you can make an informed decision on travelling with them or finding an alternative

  • If you have questions about specific allergens being served during the flight, it is a good idea to ask the airline before you decide to book the flights

  • The time of travel could have an impact on your risk levels as airplanes are typically deep cleaned overnight, so the first morning flight is likely to lower the chances of cross-contamination on the surfaces

  • Carry your allergy medication in your hand luggage, making sure it is always accessible rather than in your checked luggage or in the overhead lockers

  • The 100ml liquid rule for hand luggage does not apply to medication in liquid form (for example antihistamine in syrup form) but it is a good idea to have a copy of your prescription or letter from your doctor as proof of need may be required

  • Consider arriving early to allow plenty of time to reconfirm your requests regarding seating and early boarding

  • Take a pack of wipes with you so you can clean down the seating area, especially the tray table

  • Avoid using the airline’s pillows and blankets, as they are frequently not washed and just re-wrapped between flights

What's the science on flying with allergies?

The Civil Aviation Authority published a review in March looking at the risks of allergic reactions on commercial flights and how to manage them.

The results were reassuring, showing the risk of a reaction in the air is actually much lower than on the ground.

The key findings:

  • For a typical food-allergic passenger on a commercial flight, the risk of an allergy-based medical event is around 10 to 100 times lower than when they are “on the ground”. This could be because people with allergies tend to take extra care when flying;

  • Wiping down seating areas, including the tray table and entertainment system, is one of the most effective ways to reduce risk for passengers;

  • Research studies demonstrate there is no evidence to support airborne transmission of peanut/tree nut allergens - this suggests that nut bans on flights may be ineffective;

  • People at risk of anaphylaxis should be prescribed two adrenaline auto-injectors (AAIs) which they should carry with them at all times, particularly while flying.

You can get extra information on travelling with allergies at the following organisations:

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