My family and I flew to California for a wedding back in 2009. While I wasn’t too worried about flying with my then five year old daughter who has asthma and is anaphylactic to milk, eggs and all nuts, it certainly was a wake up call for all of us. I had flown with her maybe once or twice before, so I felt comfortable flying with her then. The flight attendants were willing to make announcements for us, and we were usually allowed to pre-board to wipe things down. Since we were on an early morning flight, I didn’t think an announcement would be necessary, and there were no nuts being served on that particular flight. About 20 minutes after takeoff, my husband and I looked at each other, we both smelled the same thing. There were nuts in the air. I immediately looked at my daughter who I could tell was starting to react. I pushed the button for the flight attendant who promptly appeared. I told her that we needed to find the nuts asap because my daughter was beginning to have an allergic reaction. While the flight attendant searched out the nuts, I gave gave my daughter a double dose of benadryl and her inhaler to prevent an asthma attack. Turns out an elderly couple sitting a few rows ahead of us had brought a can of mixed nuts on the flight. As soon as they opened the can, the nut proteins became airborne.
We had three subsequent flights on this trip. Each time I told the flight attendants about my daughter’s reaction, they were willing to make an announcement or serve other snack items that didn’t include peanuts or tree nuts.
I wish I could stay this cooperative nature still holds true today, but it doesn’t. Flight attendants are no longer willing to make such accommodations, and the airlines would just as leave not have you on their planes.
In November 2011, we decided to try it again. My family and I flew from Chicago to Phoenix early one Saturday morning. When we boarded the flight, I promptly told the flight attendants about my daughter’s allergies, including the fact that she had had an allergic reaction to nuts on board a flight two years earlier. They told me that they would be warming mixed nuts in both the front and back ends of the plane to serve to their first class passengers. I asked them if they could serve something else. They refused saying they couldn’t deny their first class passengers their warm nuts. I was then told that if I didn’t feel comfortable flying we could get off the plane. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and I felt as though I had just landed in the middle of a Saturday Night Live skit. The absurdity of it all. I gave my daughter benadryl and her inhaler before we took off and prayed for the best. Needless to say, it was a very stressful flight. I felt even worse for my daughter who couldn’t understand why the flight attendant didn’t care about her safety. How do you explain that to a child? Liability isn’t something they understand at such a young age.
Upon our return flight home, I didn’t dare ask for any special accommodations, but I did ask a flight attendant what had changed since we had last flown. She told me that the airlines were trying to upgrade their offerings in first class to attract higher paying passengers. These upgraded offerings apparently meant warm nuts. She then told me that the general attitude among airline staff had become “colder” towards those with nut allergies. We certainly sensed it.
While I don’t wish to label our food/nut allergic children as disabled, I do think, from time to time, they need special accommodations and protections, especially when they’re flying in cramped quarters, 35,000 feet above ground and miles away from medical assistance. The time has come when something needs to be done.