Allergies While Traveling: What Are The Solutions?

This is probably not the best way to address your allergy with cats — but allergies are nothing at which to sneeze. Photograph © by EvgeniyaTiplyashina.

“A damaging immune response by the body to a substance, esp. pollen, fur, aparticular food, or dust, to which it has become hypersensitive” is the definition of an allergy, according to Oxford Dictionaries.
“An allergy starts when the immune system mistakes a normally harmless substance for a dangerous invader”, according to an article posted by the staff of the Mayo Clinic. “The immune system then produces antibodies that are always on the alert for that particular allergen. When you’re exposed to the allergen again in the future, these antibodies can release a number of immune system chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms.”
Allergies can be bad enough to have at home and at work. They can be mildly annoying at best; but they can be debilitating and even life-threatening to the sufferer of an allergy…
…and it is not uncommon for people to suffer from greater than one allergy.
However, allergies can become more significant when you are traveling. Certain situations which may not be a factor at home or at work can suddenly become major impediments which infringe on your enjoyment of travel. How do you deal with allergies when you travel?
I am fortunate to never having been diagnosed with allergies nor suffer from their symptoms, which would certainly disqualify me as an expert on the subject. That does not decrease the significance of the fact that many FlyerTalk members do suffer from many different types of allergies, as evidenced by the hundreds of discussions posted on FlyerTalk.
A small list of examples of allergies from which FlyerTalk members claim to suffer include but are not limited to the following:

Dogs FlyerTalk member jayer — who is quite allergic to dogs — stayed as a guest at a hotel property which was “heavily promoted as pet friendly” and wants to know what is the pet policy as directed by the corporate headquarters of Hyatt Hotels Corporation. “I break out from wearing a new wool sweater before its been to the cleaners once. So am I supposed to ask for one of the limited ‘Nothing But People’ rooms, or is this all a line from one franchise?” In another example — after a week staying at a Hyatt hotel property and approximately a year after pets were allowed to stay with their owners — FlyerTalk member hi2allstarted getting some sort of allergic reaction when I went to the bed. When I wake up, my eyes will be bright red as if I got the pink eye and would be hard to open due to lots of discharge.”

Cats “My wife is very allergic to cats”, posted FlyerTalk member DSK back in 2003. “She swells up and has respratory distress if exposed for more than 15 minutes to a house with cats in it. My questions is, with the fervor over peanut allergies what happens if we get on a flight with a cat on it?”

Peanuts This is arguably the single-most discussed allergy on FlyerTalk, as I asked last year if food allergies should determine what is served aboard airplanes: “Should the policy of either denying passengers with food allergies from boarding the aircraft or excluding them from the cabin be adopted by the transportation departments of other countries — or is this policy unjust and going too far overboard? Do you agree with the idea of establishing ‘nut-free zones’ aboard airplanes? Should passengers with peanut allergies be allowed to pre-board on an airplane with their travel companions? Is the refusal to serve peanuts to passengers on an airplane simply because one passenger has a peanut allergy unjust and going too far overboard? What about dogs who are allergic to nuts?”

Other Sources of Allergies FlyerTalk members have asked for advice about allergies derived from all sorts of products — such as spinach, chemicals used to freshen carpet, shellfish, milk, and even products used in airport arrivals lounges.

As I fortunately do not suffer from allergies, I never worry about what is served aboard an airplane; whether a pet was ever in a hotel room where I will be a guest; or watch what I should eat wherever I happen to be on this wonderful planet of ours. The only thing about which I am concerned is the lingering unpleasant odor of cigarettes, which can be quite uncomfortable for me…
…but many fellow FlyerTalk members are not as fortunate and must take greater thought into choosing airlines, hotel properties and rental cars — and even then, there are times where all of the precautions that could reasonably be taken do not prevent the confrontation with a source which can cause allergic reactions. The problem is that people who have pets or enjoy peanuts have just as much of a right to travel as people who have allergies; and vice versa.
Where should the line be drawn — and what should be done about placating both sides of this issue so that as many people as possible can enjoy their travel experiences as much as possible?
Hilton Worldwide is one lodging company which offers PURE Rooms at select hotel properties for people with allergies. “I found that they basically put a high-quality air purifier in the room, add hypo-allergenic mattress and pillow encasements, and give the room a good scrub down every six months (they show a certificate of when it was last overhauled in the room)”, recalled FlyerTalk member elbidercni based on an experience as a guest in 2011. “My experience was that it didn’t really seem to mean that the room was completely allergy-free, as I was perhaps hoping for a little more.”
PURE Rooms are not only found at Hilton hotel properties, but also at select Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Hyatt Hotels Corporation and Marriott Hotesl and Resorts properties, as you can search for a PURE Room at a hotel property located at your destination when you travel. “A PURE Room has gone through a comprehensive, patented 6 step process in order to be certified as allergy friendly”, explained FlyerTalk member bbrault — also known as Brian Brault, who is the chief executive officer of PURE Solutions in Cheektowaga, New York. “Yes indeed the room is deep cleaned every six months, but the surfaces are treated with a special shield that makes it nearly impossible for bacteria, viruses and other contaminants to survive, thus maintaining the conditions on these surfaces in between deep cleanings. The Purifier is actually listed by the FDA as a Class II Medical device because it not only circulates and filters all the air in a room every 12-15 minutes, it kills 98-100% of all viruses and bacteria that are in the air as well.”
PURE Rooms may be a solution for hotel rooms — but what about aboard airplanes where space is tight and people are packed closer together; where you most likely cannot escape if a source of an allergy for you is nearby?
SWISS International Air Lines announced last month that it has become the first airline in the world to be “allergy-friendly” as certified by the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation. Lactose-free and gluten-free meal options are being offered along with allergy-free snacks. You can rest your head on synthetic pillows instead of down pillows, wash your hands with skin-friendly soaps, and no longer breathe in nasal irritants from air fresheners.
First of all, I find it ironic that the news was posted by a FlyerTalk member with the name TravelingPeanut. Also, to me, “allergy-friendly” is like taking something which is “good for your cold”: you are attempting to fight it — not treat it or be friendly with it…
…but I digress, as usual. SWISS International Air Lines seems to be taking a step in the right direction; and perhaps other airlines will eventually follow its lead.
If you happen to be flying as a passenger on any other airline in the meantime, you may be out of luck. FlyerTalk member McTigerFan suggested back in 2012 that airlines “ought to at least provide the basic nutritional information that you find in a grocery store or chain restaurant.”
Perhaps that is a good start — but short of avoiding travel, what should you do if you have allergies but want or need to travel?
This list of tips offered by WebMD should give you some relief if you have allergies :

  • Pack all the medications you will need in your purse or carry-on bag — something you will have at hand in the car, in your train seat, or on the flight. Bring a day’s worth of extra doses just in case you’re delayed.
  • Keep medications in their original packaging to avoid running afoul of the Transportation Security Administration if you’re flying. You should be allowed to check all types of medication through the security checkpoint. If it’s in three-ounce or smaller quantities, you can put it in a clear quart-sized bag as you do with shampoo and perfume — but give the meds their own bag, separate from cosmetics and other liquids. If your liquid or gel medications are in larger quantities, put them in a separate bag and declare them separately to the screener.
  • If you use dust-proof, zippered pillow covers at home, pack one for the pillow at your destination. It takes up little to no space in your suitcase. If you’re really expecting to encounter some dust mite problems while away, you can even fold up and pack your mattress cover — but that will take up more space.
  • If you have food allergies, pack acceptable snacks in your carry-on bag so you won’t have to take a chance on airline food or the options available in train stations, rest stops and airports.
  • Check the pollen counts at your destination — you can do that here or at an Internet web site dedicated to weather, for example.
  • The air in planes is particularly dry, so be sure your carry-on includes saline nasal spray — and use it once an hour to keep nasal passages moist.
  • If you have mold allergies, ask for a sunny, dry room away from the pool.
  • Ask about the hotel’s pet policy. Hotels cannot bar service animals for the reasons listed here; but if you have dander allergies, you probably don’t want to be staying in a hotel that advertises itself as pet-friendly or offers cats to borrow for the night.
  • If you’ll be staying in a rental home, inquire about how thoroughly the location is cleaned between guests.

Unfortunately, there are not many easy solutions currently available — although the good news is that more and more companies in the travel industry are addressing the issue of customers with allergies.
I leave you with this comment posted by FlyerTalk member Cannonball Run in response to the article I wrote last week about the exploitation and abuse of the rules and policies pertaining to service dogs and animals which provide their owners with “emotional support”:

“Stop making people pretend. Get over it – so what – there’s a dog next to you.
“I’ve seen many examples of dogs in the cabin – with very few falling in the support role- but rather just wanting to fly with their pet. The solution is easy. Airlines should ALLOW pets in the cabin – and charge a fee plus a deposit. Stop the debate and people time needed. The fee is simple – base it on distance – just like AA uses stickers – X dollars per 500 miles and x for the size of the dog (one floor space, two floor spaces, three floor spaces. The deposit – Double the fee – refunded in future air credit – IF the pet leaves nothing on the plane (hair or other items that come from or off the body). Sell X per flight (same as seats – when they are out just like flights – the person has to find a different flight). Allergy’s – flyers beware – not much different then peanuts, the smelly person sitting next to you, smells that waft through the cabin – that seem to be coming from the person in front of you, sitting near the Lav door, or a the food they brought on board, Service animals – FEE’S as required by law – no fee.”

Do you agree? What are your thoughts on attempting as best of a balance as possible pertaining to providing people with allergies a travel experience as free of concern as possible while allowing others to freely enjoy their food or be with their pets without worry of causing discomfort to fellow travelers?

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