My 2 year old son has multiple food allergies, the most severe of which is his allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. Our family of 4 had booked tickets on American Airlines to fly from Austin, Texas to Portland, Oregon to see my husband run in his first marathon. My son had only flown as an infant prior to our knowledge of any allergy. Due to the prolific prevalence of nuts on flights, I spoke with our allergist about what we needed to do for my son to travel safely on a plane. She recommended for us to ask to pre-board the plane to wipe down and clean his seat and the seats around him that he would be touching, to ask for the airline to provide him with a buffer zone one row in front and one row behind our seats where no nuts were served, and to ask for the flight crew to make an announcement that a child with a severe nut allergy was on board. She stressed these accommodations were important particularly because he was so young and, like other small children, touch everything exploring his surroundings and then often put his hands and potentially anything his finds exploring in his mouth (if there was a loose nut in the seat creases or on the floor, or nut protein from a person who ate nuts in the chair earlier in the day, and he ingested it, he could have a reaction). Our allergist also recommended that I call the airline to let them know that he’d be flying ahead of time, so they could note his allergy and our requests for accommodations.
I followed her recommendation and called American Airlines. I was told that their policy was to NOT provide any of the accommodations I requested. She also stated that American Airlines often roasts mixed nuts in first class and they would not suspend this service to the first class passengers during our flight.
I explained the severity of the situation to the customer service representative –that exposure to nuts did not simply make him uncomfortable, but could cause him to stop breathing, lose consciousness due to a fast drop in his blood pressure, which happened the first time he ingested tree nuts, and that he could die — and that what I was asking for was rather simple and based upon the advice of his physician. She held firm to her statement regarding the airline’s policy to refuse accommodation.
Somewhat in a state of disbelief, I asked to speak to her supervisor and worked my way up the chain of command attempting to find someone who could explain to me how an airline could deny reasonable accommodations to a person who has a medical condition, which is deemed a disability under current law. No one could provide me with an acceptable answer, but stuck to their policy, which effectively denied my son access to safe air travel. I explained that I could not in good conscience go against his physician’s suggestions and that, if his allergist stated he could not safely fly without the accommodations requested, that I would need to cancel our family’s reservations and I wanted my money back — not a credit — since my family could not ever safely travel on their airline due to their policy.
I then called his allergist and discussed the safety of him flying without any of the accommodations requested and was told that it was against her recommendation for him to take a flight on which he was unprotected by any of the accommodations suggested. I called AA back, told them that I was not comfortable with him flying under their current policy, and that my entire family’s trip was now impossible and I wanted to cancel my reservations and be refunded the costs of the tickets. After a lengthy discussion and proving to the airline that he did in fact have a severe nut allergy, I was issued a refund.
Needless to say, the entire situation was distressing to our family. Learning that our child had a condition like severe food allergies was life altering. It is truly one of the only medical conditions which requires you to rely on the actions of others to avoid a reaction and to keep you safe. The absolute refusal by AA to provide the accommodations recommended by his allergist and assist in insuring his safe travel was shocking and effectively denied him the right to travel with us as a family.