We have three children. One of my sons was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies to egg, peanut, and all tree nuts at age 1. His sister went into anaphylaxis last year and was diagnosed with a peanut allergy as well. She avoids tree nuts.
I did as I always have with my son with respect to airline travel. I booked the flight months in advance and filled out the allergy info for both kids. I then took the extra step to confirm they got my allergy notes from the online reservation, about 2 weeks in advance by calling disability services. Following that, we inform all initial people we encounter at airport to include, the ticket counter, gate agent, and first flight attendant we see as we are pre-boarding to wipe down seats.
Our first two Delta flights and crews were wonderful. I did not know serving almonds had become common on Delta. Of their own initiative, these crews from the first two legs of our trip from Norfolk to San Jose, said they would not offer any almonds or tree nuts to passengers and made clear to passengers to please refrain from eating peanuts or tree nuts in flight. They offered Sun Chips and safe cookies. My kids with allergies have their own food and drink with them for flights.
Problem flight: We arrive to return home going first from San Jose, CA to Atlanta on 7/13. My husband informs the gate agent of the allergies and emphasized almonds since we now know Delta is serving almonds on flights. The caring agent said something like, “we’ve been expecting you,” in a way of concern for the kids. She reassures my husband that no peanuts or tree nuts, including almonds would be served in flight. They made an announcement in the lobby requesting passengers refrain from eating them.
We pre-board to wipe down seats. I tell the first flight attendant I see that two of my children have peanut allergies and one also has tree nut allergies, including almonds so if they could please not serve them. Since everyone else prior had been so great, I was taken aback at her response. She said they would not serve peanuts, but that they would serve almonds, however she would have flight attendants refrain from serving almond products one row ahead and one row behind us.
I responded something to the effect of, “but the other Delta crews went out of their way of their own initiative (without me even requesting) to ensure almond products not be served.” At the time I thought the only almond type of food they gave out was a fruit bar that had a bit of almond inside of it. The flight attendant then said it is “policy” they serve it and offer it to passengers.
Of course, that made no sense and I said that it could become a much bigger problem if they must do an emergency landing. I am a counselor. I never yelled or became belligerent, just worried, confused, and firm in my statements. As to not cause a scene nor delay things, we simply made our way to our seats to wipe everything down. The five of us comprised one row and one seat was unoccupied. We felt to get home we had to take what we could get with the one row behind and in front of us buffer zone and pray for the best. We had the twins wear masks on all flights as a hopeful barrier.
About an hour into the flight, the first round of snacks came through. The flight attendant proceeded to ask all passengers in front of us if they wanted bags of almonds, granola, cookies, or Sun Chips. I had no idea bags of whole almonds were even an option and feared whatever might be in the granola as were both kids (very common for granola to have both peanuts and tree nuts). I was shocked, especially because she offered it to even the row right in front and back of us. I spoke up and she seemed irritated when I said I was told those things would not be offered one row ahead and behind us. She said something like, “well I didn’t know.” She then proceeded to correct herself and said she was only offering the cookies and chips to those same people.
Snack time number two comes around. Same flight attendant does the exact same thing again! At this point I felt like we were surely dealing with what appeared to be vindictiveness. I once more spoke up, bringing up the buffer offered to us -one row before and behind. She said that they had to offer it, it was policy and they also had to sell lunches that often include nuts. Fortunately, however, she once more retracted her almond offer to the people around us.
I waited until we landed and once, I had internet service looked up this “policy” on my phone. I could not find it but did see something that was in our favor about if people were eating tree nuts around us, we could have the flight attendant move us. Of course, that, to any reasonable person, makes no sense if the flight attendant repeatedly insists on and offers the allergens to the people in front and behind your child. I also decided to ask them to see this policy where they must offer my kid’s allergen, however, as to again not delay other passengers or cause a scene, we departed last off the plane to inquire about it. This was not hard as we were about 4 rows from the back anyway.
The flight attendant had also looked up the policy and found it wasn’t rows in front and behind us, but just our row. That was why they decided to offer it to the rows around us. Yet, none of the flight attendants ever informed or warned us of this new change of plan.
As we exited we asked the flight attendant about the policy and why she continued to allow almonds to be offered in front of us and behind us. She responded emphatically, “I never said rows. I said seat set.” She defined this as just our one row where only my family sat. I calmly said, “You are not being honest.” The head flight attendant, then said we need to get off the plane so the next crew can come on. My husband said, “Are we inconveniencing you?” She then backed off and let us finish speaking.
The flight attendant continued to say that the policy is to have to serve them and if she didn’t serve them, she “could lose my job.” She oddly also stated that her son has autism, and her husband also has a disability so she must keep her job to support them. I then said, “Knowing your son has autism, I would offer him a place in the front of a line because I know those with autism have a really difficult time waiting.” We then left the plane.
The gate agent for our Atlanta to home flight was great. He told my husband something like he was so sorry that happened, it shouldn’t have happened, seemed to imply that was not policy. They were great on that flight too and did not offer allergens. Apparently, it is only “policy” on one out of four Delta flights. Fortunately, my kids did well on the flights physically, but mentally it was constant calming of understandable anxiety.
The next day I filed an online complaint with Delta on 7/14. To the best of my understanding, they have 30 days to respond to a disability complaint. They have not responded as of this writing; thus, I’ve filed a complaint with DOT.