Note from Lianne-No Nut Traveler
It is ALWAYS my firm advice to never accept a meal from an airline, no matter what the assurances are. Having said that, this young girl did not eat the meal served, we have NO idea what caused her severe reaction. What we do know for sure is that the airline failed to realize the seriousness of the situation as she devolved into a second reaction. Clearly, it is time to reassess airline readiness for anaphylaxis. Many do not fully grasp the severity and limitations of treatment of an anaphylactic reaction at 30,000 feet in the air.
Our youngest daughter turned 15 last week. She is the only one with food allergies in our family. She was diagnosed at the age of 3 with a peanut, tree nut, seed allergy. Her allergist and pediatrician have always instructed her to inject when any symptoms of anaphylaxis begin. She carries an Epi Pen always and was instructed from a young age to inject herself.
My daughter is an honor student and an outstanding science and stem student and has won first place consistently at her school and at her high school, as well as at the Long Island IYSC in 2017 and this year’s Long Island Science Congress and is headed to the state finals. Last year she came in first at school and second at IYSC for “NUTSENSE /FLYSAFE” her topic was mitigating factors aboard flights. My point is that she knows the ropes. She wipes those tables, the screens, she cleans her seat, she does not use the airline pillows or blankets, she washes her hands, she pre-boards, we call the airlines in advance, we speak. Dad is a physician, mom a Rpa-c and an attorney.
Our daughter is a world traveler. Some of the places she visited include: The Maldives, South Africa, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Tahiti, Russia, Israel, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Vietnam, Malaysia, Bali, Europe – France, London, Spain, Portugal Italy, Hawaii, California and many other places that required her to spend many hours aboard airplanes.
Some of the airlines we have flown include: Asiana in 2016, American, Delta, Hawaiian airlines, Cathay, ANA (our favorite they clean seats and are simply amazing) Turkish, El Al, Emirates, Etihad, Air Tahiti, Qantas, JetBlue, South African, Vietnam air and a few others. We have NEVER had an issue. Everyone usually polite and accommodating. Occasionally a few snide remarks or a sour flight attendant but it’s rare. We order her kosher meals as all ingredients are listed BUT we bring our own food for our daughter.
APRIL 2019: We planned a family vacation to Vietnam. Our plan was to all fly together from JFK to Saigon via Seoul. Family for this trip included my older daughter and son in law and 4 children, my husband, myself and our 16-year-old son. For the record, her ticket was booked with a travel agent that we use occasionally and he was aware of the nut and seed allergy and informed the airline. Seats are always chosen carefully, with her near a window. I always check on seats as there are frequent equipment changes. I was flying business class with my daughter and baby grandson. My husband and the rest of our family were flying economy.
The Crux: I spoke with someone at the 800 number on Monday the 15th on a recorded line. I gave her the record locators. I told her that my daughter has a severe nut and seed allergy and that she needs to have a window seat with family sitting near her. She said that she could only accommodate me on the outbound flight. She said that the return flight was a problem and that she could not help me. I told her that I would deal with it when I got to Vietnam or Seoul.
On Wednesday April 17 -I checked in with her at the business class counter where I again reminded the agent of the nut and seed allergy. I also reminded her that she would need to pre- board to wipe down the seats and table. She was very agreeable. When boarding time arrived there was an agent at the gate that would not allow my younger daughter to pre-board. My older daughter was ahead of me with the 4 little children and quickly got the attention of the original agent that then allowed her to pre- board with me.
When we entered the cabin, I again, told both flight attendants about the nut and seed allergies. They did not seem concerned. The flight left at approximately 2:33 PM. I am not sure when meal service began in economy but at approximately 4 pm my younger daughter came running into the business class cabin and I saw her lip and I knew.
Here is what she told me transpired. The flight attendant showed her a heavily wrapped kosher meal in the dim cabin. Kosher meals declare all ingredients and showing them wrapped is the usual protocol for observant Jews. The flight attendant was not wearing gloves. My daughter not being able to see the small print due to the wrapping and the dim lighting gave her approval to the kosher but had not seen the ingredients. My granddaughter sitting next to her did not have any food because at the time she was drinking milk. The main cabin was serving a Korean dish that had sesame oil. The smell was pungent. When the meal was warmed, the flight attendant handed my daughter her meal that apparently was next to the others that were filled with sesame oil and/ or seeds – my daughter then opened the wrapper. Immediately the pungent sesame oil was apparent to her and she began to read the ingredients as she always does , she noted the kosher dish contained sesame oil. She did NOT ingest it, she only touched the wrapper to the meal. However we are unsure if she touched her face, if the flight attendants hand had sesame oil or seed on it when she touched my daughter’s meal. We also don’t know If the seat had a stray seed on it- she could have inadvertently ingested. We simply know she did not eat it. She opened it. That’s it. However, all around her people were eating sesame oil laden food.
Knowing that her sensitivity to sesame is high, she had her Epi Pen with her when she came to my seat. I took photos of her face; both her lip and face were swelling rapidly and she began having some respiratory distress. I injected her with the Epi- Pen at about 4:10 PM and thankfully the swelling and breathing improved. When I felt, she was a touch more stable (about 3 mins), I informed the flight attendant that we had a medical emergency, that I’m a PA (Physician’s Assistant), that my husband is an MD and that we needed to land the plane. She gave me a blank stare. A woman behind me gave my daughter a mask. I dragged my daughter with me to another 2 or 3 other flight attendants and got the same blank response. Finally, I got someone who took both of us to the lounge. She threw a defibrillator at me and left!
My daughter then began to vomit. No communication, no one around except a blogger that began taking photos of my distressed child! She suddenly began vomiting profusely at about 5PM. Medicine at 30,000 feet is hard when dealing with a patient (I landed a continental flight April 2010) but when you are the parent and clinician … It was hell.
I wish this on NO ONE. No one came to help. No one came to talk to me. No pilot involvement at all. No phone was offered so that I could call our physician or call for help. When I asked a flight attendant for a phone she told me I can go to my seat and call my physician with a credit card. I finally did when my other daughter and husband came to help me. It didn’t work.
At approximately 5:30PM when the flight attendants witnessed the now violent vomiting the captain announced that he was returning to JFK. That we would arrive in 3 hours. I believe we were near Quebec. One flight attendant kept repeating “you want an ambulance when we land? YOU Pay!” Simply incredulous. Why didn’t they land?
Thankfully she stopped vomiting and appeared stable at about 6PM. They asked for a physician at that point and aside from my husband and myself they brought a nurse who told us “don’t worry we are turning back “? They also had a young flight attendant babysit us for about an hour. She said she never saw or heard of a nut or a seed allergy.
Finally, they asked us to bring our carry-on bags and to sit in seats 11 c and d which were cloth for landing. I tried my best to wipe them down. They had my son put up our bags and they offered us no assistance. As we were landing. she suffered a another reaction, this was a biphasic reaction around 8:10PM. I called the allergist on my cell, as I had a signal and he talked me thru it, he advised me to inject STAT!
A woman near us began complaining loudly to my daughter and to all that would hear that she was going to miss her boyfriend’s birthday. What a world. Upon landing, the flight attendants did note even help me with 2 carry-on bags, my daughter’s knapsack and my personal items.
I never ask for help. Our bags were not taken off the flight. The Port Authority police arrived first. They are NEW YORKS finest. My daughter was taken to Jamaica hospital via EMS and given salmeterol (steroid) via an IV. She was admitted. She was released on Friday afternoon. Everyone refunded our money, except Asiana. They claim, I only told them she had a nut allergy. I know that this is not true.