Airline Adventures to Argentina with Food Allergies- Part 1

I have spent years planning my trip to Argentina. Okay, not literally, but it has been a top destination for many years!  My love for a country I had yet to visit really began when I found out I had close to one hundred cousins living there. I come from a tiny immediate family, so the idea of having such an extensive extended family somewhere far away was a riveting new concept to me!

When I originally decided I wanted to teach abroad after getting my Masters in Education, Buenos Aires was my main consideration. At that time, they did not have any openings at the American school, especially for a brand-new teacher. One of my cousins worked at a university there, and a British elementary school was part of the university.  I spoke to the administration at the school, but at the time they had no native English speakers and they were not sure they were ready for that.  I was soon hired to teach fourth grade in Italy, and although Buenos Aires remained on my mind, I put it aside for the time being. I decided this year was finally a perfect time to take a trip to Argentina!

Let’s start with Flights… My Big Internal Debate!

I had a dilemma I needed to face with myself before booking my flights to Buenos Aires.  The problem: American Airlines was the only airline that made any sense for the time table I had and route.  Although I have flown them numerous times over the years, that doesn’t change how I feel about their lack of allergy understanding and negative past experiences with them.

This left a choice to make.  I could either take the American Airlines flight or not go on the trip.  After living abroad for many years and traveling all over the world, I know my comfort level and I knew I would feel okay flying with them as far as my safety was concerned.  My biggest struggle was supporting an airline that I philosophically strongly disagree with as far as their policies and attitude.  It truly was a battle for me that I had to move past.  I wanted to go on this trip and my concern was not as much about my allergies (because let’s face it… I am not making the big bucks as a teacher, so it isn’t like I was going to be sitting in first class with the roasted nuts anyway- but really!?  Why do you passengers in first class need roasted nuts? Come on!).  My concern was spending my hard earned money on an airline that I know doesn’t support, understand, or even try to educate themselves on allergies.  It truly was a moral dilemma I battled with.  Ultimately the big bad airline won because I did take American Airlines.  However, I would have lost out both ways if I let them win by not going on my trip at all because of their infuriating policies.

The first leg.

I left early Saturday morning to take the first flight of the day from Boston to NYC. This was positive from an allergy standpoint (because planes are cleaned overnight) but not for any other reason since my next second flight didn’t leave until 10 p.m.  I did not talk to American Airlines about my allergies for the first flight because it was so early. I did call the night before to add a note to my reservation about my nut allergies. The woman on the phone was very nice about making the note and did say that I could probably pre-board to wipe down my seat. She also basically reiterated what the airline states online about nut allergies and their policies.

I slept through the short flight which made it quick and painless. When I arrived at Laguardia I had to get my one checked bag at luggage claim and then wait for the next shuttle bus for JFK.  It was that freezing, below zero day in NYC and I had dressed in lighter layers to travel to Southern Hemisphere summer. Needless to say, I was shivering!

It was nice not having to rush between the two airports with the knowledge that I had plenty of time to get from one to the other; a relief I rarely experience. When I arrived at JFK, I checked my bag. I was concerned that it may not make it on my flight with 10 whole hours to get lost and forgotten before it was boarded. The woman checking it informed me that it wasn’t a problem, so I hoped for the best and enjoyed the lighter load. I kept all my allergy essentials with me in my carry-on. This included: all medicines, many safe snacks, a plentiful bag of hand wipes, copies of necessary documents (translated chef cards, letter from allergist listing my allergies and medications). If my bag didn’t arrive, I may have nothing to wear, but I would make it through my trip safely, and that is what matters most!

Going through security, I wasn’t asked about my medications.  I rarely get asked, but I always travel prepared with a letter from my allergist just in case it happens!

The Stretch.

My day at the airport consisted of wandering around, reading, and snacking. It went by pretty quickly. I bought a coffee and water, but no food. I brought safe food for a purpose. I also ate a big breakfast before I left Boston (yes, at 5 a.m.), so I wasn’t starving.

My friend Shannon was traveling with me. She lives in NYC, so she was meeting me there a few hours before the flight. We agreed that we would try to find somewhere to eat dinner before boarding the 11 hour flight from JFK to Buenos Aires. I found a burger restaurant across from our gate. When I asked about my allergies, they said the food was brought over to them from a restaurant down a few gates in the terminal and to go eat there. We went to that restaurant and as I asked questions, I decided they weren’t knowledgeable enough and that it wasn’t worth the risk to order anything. I had enough snacks to get me by anyway. I’ve had this happen many times at airport restaurants. I suggest avoiding them if possible!  I don’t typically consider them reliable when it comes to allergy understanding.

Second leg- The Long Flight.

Before our flight I went to the desk to ask about pre-boarding. During the day someone from the airline had called my cell to say that they had received my pre-board request. They reiterated that roasted nuts would still be served in first class. They also said they couldn’t guarantee my safety, etc. All of this I know, which is why I feel conflicted about even telling them sometimes! Pre-boarding does help though and I appreciated that small accommodation.

When we arrived at the gate to board for the flight, they didn’t make an announcement for anyone to pre-board. I had to go advocate for myself to get in front to board. This is why teaching kids how to advocate is essential! They have to learn to do all of this for themselves. It would have been significantly easier to just stay where I was in line and not go ask to be moved up to pre-board. Often the easier option is not the safer option though!

After wiping down my seat, seat belt, tray table and arm rests, I talked to the Argentinian woman next to me for a few minutes, then fell right asleep. I remember waking up occasionally because my knees ached from the tight seats, but I didn’t really wake up until the last hour of the flight. I finally stood up for a few minutes before returning to my seat and falling asleep again for the remaining time. I travel well, but I also found the flight to be my easiest long flight ever. I’ve been more uncomfortable on shorter flights before. I didn’t eat any of my snacks on the flight. Unless I absolutely can’t wait, I usually try not to eat on flights. Even though I have safe options with me, I just feel more comfortable waiting.  When I was a child I would eat the safe food I brought on the plane. It is only as an adult and especially traveling alone that I rather wait. That is just where my comfort currently lies.  Comfort levels can alter and fluctuate over time.  There is nothing wrong with that. Everyone needs to decide for themselves and then feel confident with where they are at!

Stay tuned for Part 2…

One Comment

  1. Great description and details!! Completely agree on not wanting to give your business to a company with such blatant disregard, and even hostility, to people with allergies. Haven’t flown them in years and won’t except a situation arises exactly like yours. Hope the rest of the trip goes well!

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