My husband recently traveled on Southwest Airlines (September 2022) with our 5-year-old who has multiple allergies including peanut, tree nut, egg, seed, shellfish, pet hair and dust allergies.
This is a regular flight for us because my son is in a treatment program in California that requires regular visits. We have had no issue with pre-boarding on 8 previous trips.
The first 3 Southwest (SW) flights were fine. On the 4th and final one, however, from Las Vegas back home to Buffalo, the gate agent absolutely refused to allow my husband and son to pre-board. My husband was told that the DOT had changed protocols. My husband became extremely upset, and security was called to calm him down. Consequently, he ended up being one of the last ones on the plane and told me that there was really no time to wipe things down properly or get a seat that would keep our son safer. What is most upsetting is that my 5-year-old was singled out in front of an airport full of people due to his disability. Absolutely despicable.
When preboarding to clean in the past we have found pistachio shells, had to move due to a dog, and have asked other passengers to kindly not sit next to us due to the food they were going to eat. Food allergies are absolutely no joke, and this change of protocol is senseless and dangerous for kids and people with food allergies. It is preferred to sit towards the very front of the plane to cut down on exposure to allergies when there is open seating and you need extra time and space to wipe away residues, especially when you are with a child who cannot take care of these responsibilities themselves.
I contacted SW on October 1st, and asked about protocol before telling the agent on the phone what had happened. I was told pre board would be allowed. Then I told him about our experience, and he said to email SW. He at no point during our conversation could find any change in policy. I have emailed SW but it said it would take up to 30 days for a response- I still haven’t heard anything.
Change needs to happen, allergies need to be taken seriously.