My husband, daughter and I were flying from Newark to Miami (10/11/2019) for a family event. Our seats were in first class. This certainly makes things more comfortable with a 6″4 husband. Pre- boarding now has become easier since food allergic people do fall under the category of disabilities. My 17 year- old daughter has very severe anaphylactic food allergies. She has many allergies including eggs, dairy, soy, mustard, all legumes, and most serious and dangerous Peanuts and all Tree nuts.
As usual we pre-boarded and wiped down the seating area completely. This included the seats, seat belts, trays, windows, seat in front, seat behind, everything she sees that she will be in contact with. Since this was first class, my husband was next to my daughter and I sat in the aisle seat across from them. Also, as usual we travel with our own food and NEVER eat food supplied by the airline. This is not a time for any risks.
As the passengers were boarding, we were getting ready to discuss the nut allergy with the flight attendant. In the past some airlines have asked the passengers in the few rows in front and behind us to refrain from eating nuts (providing a buffer zone). Some airlines (Jet Blue in particular) actually required a verbal confirmation from each passenger in the area that they would refrain from opening or eating nuts. That flight was more reassuring. This time we were flying United.
Our history with United has been extremely inconsistent. Some flight attendants are helpful and ask passengers to refrain. Some have laughed at us, some have rolled their eyes, some truly mean, and some have been super compassionate. The inconsistent nature of the responses of these flight attendants makes it so clear that food allergy education for all flight attendants should be enforced and uniform information should be provided.
As the flight attendant was approaching us the woman next to me asked her “Can I have my nuts now?” The answer she was given is that no snacks will be served before the in-flight meal and we will be departing shortly. At that moment the fear takes over, the anxiety of someone eating nuts so close to such a severely allergic person on a plane. As we tried to speak to the attendant we were consistently interrupted by other passengers. Finally, when she was able to attend to us, we explained my daughters nut allergies and asked if nuts were to be served on the flight. She said that warmed nuts were served in first class. She looked flustered and walked away from us. We watched her speak to another flight attendant, a conversation that from a distance appeared to be a disagreement.
Hearing stories after stories so many thoughts went through my head. I have heard stories from people being asked to leave first class and go to the back of the plane to being kicked off the planes. After some time, the flight attendant came back to us. She told us she had made a decision to not serve the nuts during this flight. I felt immediate relief and gratefulness. She was not appearing happy. She then proceeded to tell us that the policy of the airline is not to refrain from serving nuts because they cannot control what others bring on board. She said she can lose her job for not serving the nuts and that if anyone in first class does ask her for the nuts she will “definitely have to give it to them because when people fly in first class, they “Expect Their Nuts”.
As I watched the woman next to me sleep and silently prayed, she stayed asleep and didn’t ask for nuts again those words kept circling in my head. “Expect their nuts”?? Since when did traveling become synonymous with eating nuts??? Both her comments were sticking in my head. Every food allergic person is very aware that in every place you go you cannot control food other people bring, eat, or have eaten. It is a risk and a fear that food allergic people have to consider all the time.
By saying they will not refrain from serving nuts because they cannot control what others bring makes no sense. On the chance no one brought nuts on board, then no one did. By serving nuts, there is a 100% chance there are nuts on board. Where is that logic?? The fact that this woman was so concerned about losing her job was also so upsetting. She made a choice to not contribute to an unsafe environment for a person with a deadly allergy, and by doing that she had to worry about losing her job? Again, where is the sense in that?
These first-class passengers were being provided with full meals. The passengers in the economy class received pretzels and waffle cookies, however those 5 rows in the front of the plane “Expect their nuts”? ; which was made very clear to us takes precedent over a severe nut allergy. Although this flight attendant was not pleasant to us about any of this, we are appreciative of her decision.
This experience just confirms again how important awareness about the severity of food allergies and anaphylaxis is. Luckily no one in first class on that flight did ask for nuts (other than the woman next to me who did remain asleep for the flight) I don’t know if they heard or they weren’t really “expecting their nuts”. I am sure any other nice snack would have sufficed.