We flew with Southwest airlines on 4/21/2021. It was myself and my two sons (ages 15 and 14). My younger son has an anaphylactic peanut allergy and we have chosen to fly Southwest in the past due to their policy of allowing pre-boarding for allergic passengers to wipe down their seats. I confirmed his pre-boarding status at check-in and again at the gate.
Just before boarding, the gate agent told us only 1 passenger would be allowed to preboard with my son. I explained I was the only adult traveling with 2 minors, but the gate agent said that didn’t make a difference to Southwest policy and one of us would have to wait for general boarding. So, I was faced with the last-minute decision as to whether to pre-board with my severely allergic son to ensure his safety and leave my other son alone to general board or send my sons ahead to pre-board (hoping they can sufficiently clean his area) while I general board. I ended up deciding to send my sons ahead to pre-board while I waited behind, with instructions to get off the plane if for some reason I’m not on board in the next 15 minutes, and that I would again wipe the area once I boarded.
It’s beyond disturbing that the Southwest gate agents and flight staff were more concerned about everyone wearing a mask, than a minor being left alone in a crowded airport far from home or a possible anaphylactic reaction in the air, both of which could have been easily avoided by a small exception to their policy that would have had no impact on other passengers or the speed of boarding, which also seemed of greater concern to them then my son’s safety. Luckily for us, my sons aren’t toddlers – I have flown with them alone at that age before, and I would hope other families with children those ages wouldn’t be treated the same. This, however, begs the question of why it’s acceptable for airlines to treat customers with anaphylactic allergies like this, and highlights the need for change so we know what to expect when flying.
This is an example of the kind of inconsistency and difficult, last-minute decisions those of us with allergies are required to make due to the lack of Federal Policy regarding our status. When I complained to Southwest about this, I was told they abided by Federal Policy and their allowance of 1 passenger to preboard with the allergic customer was a courtesy. Since there’s no consistent Federal policy, we’re left at the mercy of specific airline personnel’s preconceived notions about allergies and/or whether they understand our needs, forcing us into impossible situations.