As an expat living in Israel, I find myself traveling quite often. In March 2016 I traveled from Israel to Chicago for a wedding with my 19 month old peanut allergic child and my husband. Our flight from Tel Aviv to Boston with El Al was exceptional and they were so accommodating to our situation. Same on the flight from Boston to Chicago on Jet Blue. On our way back from the wedding we were scheduled to fly from Chicago Midway(MDW) to LGA on Southwest. I alerted Southwest about the allergy at the time of booking and reminded them once again three days before the flight. They assured me that there would be no peanuts on the flight and that we were good to go.
We arrived at the airport and I once again reminded them about my child’s peanut allergy. They gave me a special peanut allergy card and priority boarding. I was so impressed! Flying is always scary with a peanut allergic child but I was given the feeling that everything would be all right.
We boarded the plane first and I handed our peanut allergy alert card to the flight attendant waiting at the door. He said with a smile, “Oh! We’ve been waiting for you. Just so you know there is peanut dust ALLLLL over this plane!” I thought he was joking because of his smile and over exaggerated hand gestures. I told him that his joke was not funny. His reply? “Oh, I’m not kidding. There really is peanut dust all over this flight.” I wasn’t quite sure how to react and I turned to sit down in the first row.
With my toddler in my arms (did I mention I was 7 months pregnant?), I handed my husband wipes to start cleaning our area. I looked down at the ground around the seats and saw PEANUTS! I turned to my husband, flipping out at this point, and alerted him about the peanuts. The flight attendants were standing right next to us and were unwilling to help in any way! They told us that they don’t clean the planes in between flights and did not do anything to try and make us more comfortable or more importantly, safe. They refused to pick up the peanut and the flight attendant also added that “they are known as the peanut airline and therefore allergic passengers tend to not fly with them!” After debating for a minute what to do, we decided to get off the plane. I was shocked by the flight crew’s attitude and complete unwillingness to help. I was most nervous that if my child had a reaction on the flight that they would not be willing to help! They did nothing to try and stop us from getting off the plane.
Once off the flight, we frantically searched for a new flight with no success (I was only willing at this point to fly a different airline and Southwest was no help at all). We ended up driving 12 hours from Chicago to New York because we had no choice.
Once in NY, I contacted Southwest Airlines in order to get a refund for our tickets. I was told that my tickets were non refundable. I was additionally told that the recommendation is for peanut allergic passengers to fly in the morning because the planes are the cleanest then. I informed them that that information should have been told to me when I booked the flight. After various representatives, managers and multiple phone calls, we were refunded our money.
I will never fly with Southwest again! Not only do I no longer feel comfortable flying on an airline that serves peanuts or nuts (even if not on my specific flight), but I was completely shocked at Southwest’s crew’s lack of understanding and unwillingness to help a family traveling with a special need.