It’s that time of year when months, weeks or maybe just days of frantic planning come to fruition and families across the UK enjoy a week or two away from it all. Whether it’s time in the sun, travels to far-flung shores or even just a few days experiencing something new in the UK, most of us wouldn’t think much beyond making travel arrangements, booking somewhere to lay our heads and throwing the essentials into a bag. For years my saving grace was the thought that, insulin aside, if I had forgotten anything else even vaguely important, as long as we had money, we could pop to the shops to find a replacement.
Once you have children with chronic illnesses or food allergies, everything suddenly becomes that tiny bit more difficult. No longer can you risk forgetting any part of the equipment or medicines you need to get your child through each day. No longer can you assume that you will be able to get hold of the gluten-, dairy- or any other allergen-free food that your child needs to remain healthy. And you have to consider what you would do if any one of your “what if” worst case scenarios was to actually happen. With all of these things to complicate what should be a fun and relaxing time away from home, it’s no wonder that many families living with chronic illness choose to holiday at home, or within reasonable spitting distance, so that many of those concerns are alleviated.
Whether you consider it courageous or complete and utter madness, we’ve never been a family to stay close to home. Mike and I both love travelling and have chosen to nuture a similar passion and willingness to explore the unknown in our children. Part of that has no doubt been fuelled by our want to go back to Canada regularly to visit family and friends and over the last couple of years we’ve developed strategies to help us cope with travelling with M. I carry doctors letters and copy prescriptions for both M and me in with our passports and last year discovered that we’re entitled to ask for additional luggage allowance to carry all of M’s medicines and foods with us free of charge.
With all this in mind, and our plans for this year’s holiday well under way, I contacted our travel company and airline to discuss our needs. This year is our “holiday of a lifetime” as we are going to Florida to enjoy all things Disney and Universal before spending a relaxing week on the beach in St Petersburg and I want it to be as straightforward as it possibly can be given the challenges of EGID and multiple food allergies. Planning for this trip started months ago and I had drawn up a list of things I wanted to find out to make our holiday as stress-free as possible. My first set of questions was all to do with our flight out and I contacted the Virgin Atlantic Special Assistance team to talk over our needs. I was quickly reassured that, as before, we could carry all of M’s medicines and foods in an extra suitcase and was advised to make sure I had copy prescriptions and doctors letters with me to make our security experience as smooth as possible. They’ve also added a note to M’s booking to make it clear to all staff that we are entitled to carry extra luggage free of charge for medical reasons. A big tick there that there will be no problems carrying M’s medical supplies.
Next the small matter of M’s in-flight meal. I couldn’t imagine that any of the special meals on offer were going to avoid the wide range of allergens we needed them to, but again the Special Assistance team were able to help. I sent an email with a full list of the foods M can’t eat and then followed it up with a phone-call. The lady I spoke to agreed that it would be difficult to accommodate him with their standard meals, but asked what, if anything, would suit him.
“Plain chicken and rice,” said I, “with no butter or sauces added and a few vegetables on the side.”
“Leave it with me,” she said.
A couple of hours later an email popped into my inbox. “I’ve spoken to the catering staff and they will make plain chicken and rice as requested for M for the flight. I’ve passed on a complete list of his allergies for their reference, so please let us know if anything changes between now and your flight. I’ve added all this information to your booking.” I was amazed at just how easy adapting a meal to suit M was, but because I’m something of a worrier, I gave VA a quick call last week to confirm everything was okay for the meals. “Yes absolutely.” said the man I spoke to this time round. “I can see this meal marked on M’s booking and this list of foods to avoid. Is that all correct?” They’d even had the sense to annotate the return flight too, so I can be confident that M will be eating something safe in both directions. They also suggested we carry a supply of safe snacks in our hand luggage (another extra bag could be carried free of charge if it was necessary), so that M won’t go hungry during the flights.
The final element was our booking in the V-room airport lounge before we make our flight. A complete breakfast menu is available to us, but scanning my eyes down the list of food, I could see that there was little on there that would be safe for either child, though G had a few more options than M. This time I contacted Virgin Holidays as they run the airport lounges and asked what our options were. I was given a list of foods that are M-friendly and advised to ask to speak to the chef when we arrive at the lounge to discuss what M would like for his breakfast. They stock gluten-free foods as a matter of course and whilst they had soya milk as an alternative for dairy, this wouldn’t suit M. Once again I was told that this wasn’t a problem and was hugely impressed to receive a follow-up email telling me that the chef of the V-room had contacted their suppliers and would get in some rice milk just for M on the day of our flight. What more could an allergy-Mummy ask for?
Of course, there are no guarantees that any of this will work out as planned and I am cautious enough to be taking supplies sufficient to meet our needs as we make the trip to the US. I will, naturally, let you all know how it goes once we’ve made our flight!