People with food allergies often report feeling concerned and anxious about the risk of having an allergic reaction while travelling by air. In fact, a recent study has shown that despite large increases in passenger numbers and food allergy prevalence, the rate of allergy-related medical incidents in the air has not changed over the past 30 years.
A systematic review with meta-analysis was carried out by a research team at Imperial College London to estimate the incidence of in-flight medical emergencies due to allergic reactions on commercial flights.
They found the incidence of in-flight allergic reactions was 0.66 events per million passengers. This means that, for a typical food-allergic passenger, the risk of an accidental reaction is 1 reaction per 3,600 food-allergic passengers travelling on board an aircraft in any 1-year period. This is 10 to 100 times lower than the equivalent incidence in food-allergic individuals when not travelling.
The study also found that the rate of in-flight medical emergencies due to food allergy has not changed significantly over the past 3 decades, despite a 7 per cent increase in passenger numbers and increasing prevalence of food allergy over the same period. This suggests that airline policies and the precautions taken by food-allergic passengers such as avoiding flying, wiping down their seat area, and bringing their own food, are effective in reducing the risk of in-flight allergic reactions.
Reference: Turner et al. 2023. How Common Are Allergic Reactions During Commercial Flights? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice. (In Press) DOI: 10.1016/j.jaip.2023.07.025. Open Access.