ADDED NOTE BY NO NUT TRAVELER LIANNE MANDELBAUM: This story and others like it, are why I recommend NOT accepting any airline food- no matter how long the flight. Even if the food is labeled safe, let us remember mistakes happen on the ground everyday. In the air, if things turn for the worse there is NO ER. I always travel with carry on of non-perishable food/snacks. IMHO no airline food is ever worth the risk. Please read about a reader’s recent experience below.
Testimonial: As a toddler, my daughter, Samantha, had an anaphylactic reaction to tree nuts. Last month (August 2017), she was feeling fine as we boarded a United Airlines flight to Barcelona where we were scheduled for a 7-night Disney cruise through the Mediterranean.
I had assumed that United Airlines would be selling the snack boxes that we have purchased on previous flights. Although some of those boxes may include foods with nuts, they are individually packaged and labeled so there has always been something that Sam could eat. When they served the complimentary “savory” snack mix which included a cross contamination warning, I asked to purchase a snack box instead and was told that they didn’t have any on board. I didn’t let Sam have the snack mix. When dinner was served, we were given a choice of pasta or chicken. I asked the flight attendant if either of them had nuts and she assured me that they didn’t. Sam had the pasta. I had the chicken. The label on the chicken said, “Buttery Chicken.” It did not have an ingredient list or any allergy warnings. The sauce on the chicken tasted like curry which seemed odd given the description but I didn’t really give it much thought. Sam ate the rice that I didn’t eat.
A few minutes after eating, Sam’s throat got sore and started tightening up. I gave her 2 Benadryl tablets just to be safe and again asked the flight attendant if she was POSITIVE that there were no nuts in either meal. She left (presumably to check with other crew members) and then returned to assure me that there were no nuts in either of the meal choices.
At that point, Sam was getting extremely anxious and was simply focusing on breathing in and out. Her throat was very sore, her eyes and nose became watery and a few minutes later, she vomited up everything she had eaten. As you can imagine, vomit on a plane results in the immediate attention of multiple flight attendants. When Sam had a cookie with macadamia nuts as a toddler, she also vomited so I AGAIN expressed my concern to all of the flight attendants that there may have been nuts in one of the meals. A doctor seated nearby heard the conversation and asked if she could examine Sam. A flight attendant brought a medical bag and the doctor listened to Sam’s heart and asked about Sam’s allergies and what we had already done. She recommended another Benadryl given that Sam had vomited up the first two before they were in her blood stream. At first, she wanted to go ahead and use Sam’s EpiPen(s) but then decided to monitor her for 10 minutes to see if the Benadryl and the fact that Sam had vomited up the food would be sufficient. She monitored Sam while I helped the flight attendants clean up Sam’s seat. The flight was sold out, so there was nowhere to move us. After 10 minutes, Sam seemed to be improving so we did not need to use the EpiPens. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that there was a doctor on that plane.
When we landed, I googled “curry” and learned that it is sometimes made with cashews. Disney is awesome about food allergies but Sam was unable to relax and enjoy her food during our cruise. She didn’t eat unless she was with me and lost 3 pounds on a 7-night cruise. Her anxiety level is still very high. She says that all she could think about was that she might never see her dad or her friends again and that she really thought she was going to die.
We got lucky but I think it could have easily gone the other way. What if we hadn’t had Benadryl and EpiPens? What if there hadn’t been a doctor on board? I’m incredibly angry that UAL’s training procedures are so inadequate. I relied on their assurances that there were no nuts in the food. It’s not the kind of thing that you can just guess about, particularly when you’re thousands of feet up in the air over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Ideally, UAL should be proactive in offering food that is allergen free. Short of that, they should NEVER tell people that food is allergen free unless they know that is the case. A simple “I don’t know” would have left us with a healthy (if hungry) teenager.