Sunday, May 29, 2011

Atopic Girl on the Rails

As an atopic girl I have several issues when traveling.

1. I can rarely eat a lot (if anything) while traveling by any method of transportation. This requires bringing food (extra baggage). I cannot do this while traveling by air, but it's not a problem when I take VIA Rail.

2. While airlines seem to be decent about nuts (for the most part), my severe egg allergy is unavoidable. Save for cashews, egg contamination is much more of a worry for me than peanuts.

3. For some silly reason, some airlines in Canada have recently decided to allow pets to travel within cabins. There is no need for this and it's annoying to have to call airlines in advance to make sure I'm not seated anywhere near any animal should one be on board.

4. Smokers - I am very allergic to smoke. I can't sit near someone who has recently been smoking or someone who is a regular smoker. Walking into a building entrance covered with smokers or walking by a smoker on the street requires me to hold my breath. It's all enough to cause an asthma attack.

5. I also have to take every single medication I could possibly need...again, extra baggage. If I'm traveling outside of Canada, this also means ensuring that I bring the original containers with the name of the medication, pharmacy, dosage and doctor - not conducive to traveling lightly.

6. Finally, while there is "free" health care across Canada, a lot of people don't seem to clue in that health care is provincially-regulated. So, while I can get health care for free in Ontario, it is possible to incur costs in other provinces and not have all of those costs covered by one's home province. So, whether I'm traveling to Montreal or Texas, I have to get out-of-province health coverage, just to be safe. Air Canada makes this easy during the ticket purchase process through a partnership with RBC. Even if you don't want to buy RBC's coverage, it's still a good reminder.

I tend to travel by either Air Canada, who seem to be fairly decent with allergies (though not perfect yet), and VIA Rail. I have to admit an addiction to the latter. It's less expensive, relaxing and more environmentally-friendly. Plus, including the time required to travel to an airport and check in, the travel time is often comparable to taking the VIA. I also get VIA Préférence points which are invaluable and the Express Deals are phenomenally-priced.

Regarding my allergies, there aren't a ton of options from the cart, but I do appreciate the availability of Summerfresh Hummus and Crackers (dairy, egg, nut-free), decent wine, good tea/coffee and regular-flavoured chips (dairy, egg and nut-free). On my last trip, I noticed that VIA has a Vegetarian Salad. I stuck to my usual hummus and crackers, but I will have to check this out on my way back  home tomorrow to see if it's a new option. While VIA doesn't seem to offer peanuts, they do offer cashews. For people with specific allergies to peanuts this is great. Of course, if you have a severe allergy to cashews (like me), it keeps me vigilant (lots of hand washing). That said, I've never had a problem.

So, my trip to Montreal (a trip I've made a few times, though this will be my last for a while) was easy and uneventful. The WiFi connection (which is currently in a beta testing phase) was much more reliable and faster than before on both legs of my trip; so, I'm suitably impressed with that. I like having the choice to be productive or just relaxing with a book, music or movie.

VIA is also offering more opportunities to check baggage and given the amount  of health-related stuff I have to take along with me, I take advantage of this at every opportunity. I couldn't check my baggage the entire way this time, but on the whole, porters often help me when I have a heavier bag.

Since I've started this blog, I've also started to pay a lot more attention to how various organizations deal with allergens. So, I checked out VIA. As a current Privilège member, I have a coupon for 50 per cent off a Business class ticket, something I've always wanted to try. The benefits of Business Class aren't just the seats or the setting, but the meal. All the meals look wonderful and the vegan meals sound delicious. However, I can't escape the potential allergens (cross-contamination) in the food I would eat according to VIA Rail's website.

Obviously, there are difficulties and liabilities in promising meals that are free from allergens, not to mention the financial aspects of doing so on a large scale. Since I don't necessarily think VIA should take this upon themselves (though I'd appreciate it if they would), I would love to see a partnership between VIA and a restaurant like Zero8 or an allergy-friendly company to offer pre-packaged (and sealed) selections for their Business Class meals. I can't imagine a more perfect travel experience than sitting in a VIA rail car in the evening with a glass of wine and a delicious allergy-free meal.

As things stand, I'm a devoted VIA Rail traveller. It's easily the least stressful travel experience one can have - no traffic, no body scans and I can bring my own food. I appreciate the level of customer service and the pleasant staff. On the couple of occasions there has been a strong odour of cigarette smoke from another passenger, the car attendant has always let me switch seats without a problem.

I always look forward to my VIA trips and as an Atopic Girl, what else can one ask for?

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