My family was scheduled to be on a flight from Denver to Newark on August 31, 2013. In the waiting area before we boarded, there was a family of five eating peanuts. I informed them that my child had an anaphylactic peanut allergy and we moved to different seats in the waiting area. I also confirmed with them that they were on our flight. Their kids weren’t just eating peanuts, but throwing them up in the air and missing their mouths and crushing them on the carpet. As my eight year old looks on with horrified eyes after I had already spoken to the parents, I started taking steps that I always do to try and keep him safe when we travel. I asked United to make an announcement on the plane that there is a child with a life threatening peanut allergy in seat 8A and to refrain from opening peanuts around him. This has been done as a courtesy on every United flight that I have taken. They refused to do this repeatedly as I spoke to multiple people on the chain of command. They stated that the flight crew was not going to make such an announcement and this was their final decision. My son, at that point, was crying as they have been less than tactful in front of him, actually saying “If you think he’s going to die, don’t get on the plane..”. Completely terrified, he kept saying “I don’t want to die on a plane”. Of course, we refused to board. The plane took off and then they took over two hours to get our luggage to us. They could not have been less helpful.
To bring an eight year old to tears and terrorize him is shameful. I have since done some research and found out that, after a flight crew on United made the same refusal to a woman in May 2013, she subsequently went into anaphylaxis on the plane and the plane had to make an emergency landing. The person who opened the peanuts when interviewed said that if an announcement was made, he never would have opened the peanuts. All we wanted was basic awareness and decency. I have since filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation. My goal, however, is to bring awareness to the public of the perils of traveling with a child with life threatening allergies. Losing a child to a food is senseless. The public needs to be aware of the seriousness of food allergies. Please see Natalie Giorgio’s story here. What a sad story. Food allergies can kill. The inconvenience a person might feel who really wants to eat a Reese’s Peanut butter cup pales in comparison to the fear of what it must feel like to have an allergic reaction to those foods.
There are people who say that individuals, like my son, simply have to take great risks when using public transportation. I strongly disagree. We can minimize these risks so easily. So why should we be castigated by the airlines for trying to do so. I have been reading online and speaking to other parents with allergic children and am continually shocked to hear so many similar stories. It seems like parents of children with food allergies are being “bullied” by the airlines. I have been told about families that have been refused entry on a plane just for informing the crew their child has an allergy. There are also many parents to whom I have spoken that feel completely terrified every time they fly (especially on United). Ironic that United has just started a campaign using the old slogan “fly the friendly skies”. I think it’s time that they were exposed for the “unfriendly skies” that families with allergic children and adults with food allergies face.
Jet Blue, by contrast, will make an announcement, and will create a buffer zone to keep your child safe. They are empathetic and have always taken my son’s allergy seriously. There is a kind and safer way to behave and create safer flying policies. United would do well to emulate them. A change needs to happen. Children and adults with life threatening allergies need protection. We are being “bullied”. This is our story.