Main Street: “Allergy-Friendly Airline Scheduled for Takeoff”


By S.Z. Berg


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Air travel is particularly difficult for the growing number of people with food intolerances and allergies, but relief, at least for some passengers, is on its way.

Beginning in May, Swiss International Air Lines is instituting a new "allergy-friendly" policy to accommodate the growing allergic population.

"We have seen a steady increase over the past few years in our customers' need for an air travel environment that pays due regard to any allergic conditions," said Frank Maier, Swiss's head of product and services. "So we've been working with [the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation, ECARF] to provide a concrete response to these demands to make everyone's air travel experience as pleasant and problem-free as possible."

The changes address environmentalallergens and food intolerances, but not food allergies.

Changes will include making available gluten- and lactose-free snacks and drinks in flight and "allergy-friendly" foods in Swiss Lounges in Switzerland. Passengers with food interolerances will be able to order special meals in all seating classes during long flights, but only in business class within Europe. Requests for special meals must be made at least 24 hours in advance of the scheduled departure.

In addition, changes will be made to the cabin environment, such as air filtering, gentle soaps in the lavoratories and pillows stuffed with synthetic materials rather than down as an option in first and business classes. Further, the cabins will no longer have fresh flowers or air fresheners.

Clifford Bassett, an allergist and fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, applauds the airline's efforts in addressing the growing population of individuals with food intolerances as well as those with environmental allergies and asthma. He notes that up to 5% of adults have food allergies and says the airline is not addressing the needs of this population. These passengers need to make an action plan with their allergist and travel with foods that are safe for them to eat as well as two to four epinephrine auto injectors. Passengers with airborne food allergies should request a barrier of 10 to 15 rows in front and behind their seat to reduce exposure, although ideally there would be no food allergens, he says.

A spokesperson for Swiss said that the airline continually evaluates its in-flight products andcustomer feedback, so there could be changes in the future. "For now, this was a first step," the spokesperson says.

--Written for MainStreet by S.Z. Berg, author of The Other Side of the Window, a medical mystery about the failure of the medical community