We had a very unsettling experience with American Airlines due to their lack of regard for our son’s safety and well being as it pertains to his severe food allergies. Before I go on, I would like to say that I do not believe allergen foods ordinarily need to be eliminated from my son’s surroundings when in public. He goes to public school, plays on several soccer and basketball teams, and eats out on a regular basis, all while being in the presence of his allergies. We do not feel anyone should stop eating peanuts/ tree nuts because of food allergies. We as a family take precautions and manage our son’s severe allergies all day, every day to ensure his safety, never taking away the rights of others.
We were flying back to Boston from Miami International Airport on February 18th. As I never fly first class, I did not realize that American Airlines serves warm nuts to first class passengers. The only reason we were flying first class and paying first class fares was because there was no other option as the economy class was fully booked when we planned our trip. I found out about the nut service about one hour before take-off and immediately proceeded to the gate to talk to the attendants. On the flight down, I asked our flight attendant when leaving Boston if nuts were being served and she said that American Airlines’ planes do not serve nut snacks. That as I found out only pertains to the packaged snacks in economy class. I naively believed that to be the whole plane.
Anyone with a food allergy can understand the risk of cross contamination in such a small space as to be serving warm nuts that must be served from a container by the flight attendant, presumably by hand, into individual serving dishes for each first class passenger. This open nut container is obviously in the food galley where my son’s food and drink will be prepared. The flight attendants will be serving the nuts and removing them back to the galley when the passengers are finished. The risk of contaminating something my son will come in contact with is high, even if he chooses not to eat or drink the airlines food. Why take that risk? That is a risk American Airlines was willing to take because they did not want to take away the privilege of nut service to the other 12 passengers in first class.
The option we were given was that the attendants would not serve the nuts to us. Obviously that does not fix the problem. We pleaded with the attendant at the gate and she assured me there was nothing they could do.We asked for a manager and proceeded to wait 25 minutes before he arrived. He arrived after the majority of the plane had boarded and there was less than 15 minutes until takeoff. My husband and I were so taken aback by the lack of respect, rudeness and confrontational manner we were immediately greeted with. Because there was such a lack of common decency in communicating with us from the very beginning, my husband quickly realized that this mistreatment needed to be taped to document such an upsetting situation. We realize that this is not the norm for most, but we have publicly managed this food allergy on behalf of our son for almost 13 years and have always been treated with kindness, respect, and above all understanding. We were treated as if we should be embarrassed to ask for such accommodations. He said the responsibility was on us. He treated us as if we were the perpetrator of the problem and he threatened to not let us on the plane. They were not changing the food service. He said it was our choice to use public transportation.
We noted that food allergies are a disability and he should be taken care of under that umbrella of protection. He said it was our fault for not knowing that they served nuts. Again, naively I believed that a request for the sake of not only a passenger’s safety but potentially their life, would be entertained without hesitation. We were rudely asked by the gate attendant, “Don’t you carry that allergy medicine?” Individuals with peanut/tree nut allergies understand that minutes count when administering a life saving epi-pen and multiple epi pens are often required as is immediate medical attention. We carry multiple pens but immediate medical attention is not easy to come by at 30,000 feet in the air. As a parent of child with food allergies I have read too many stories of children, young adultsand even adults who have died because although epi-pens were administered and these individuals were fully educated on their allergy, delayed further medical intervention resulted in death.
We were able to board the plane, not due to the empathy of American Airlines but due to the humanity of the 12 other passengers in first class, who obviously understood the seriousness of the situation. The whole ordeal was extremely stressful, especially for our son, and we were grateful to the other passengers who chose to keep our child safe. Those individuals had “the right” to say no and demand the nut service but unlike American Airlines they chose to see the situation at the human level and not as a “policy” as the airline saw it. Our family had to wait while the AA manager boarded the plane and asked each passenger in first class if they would be ok without the nut service. They all agreed that would be fine.
Even up until the very end as we boarded the plane the manager and
the gate attendant put the blame on us, that we should’ve known. We were also the last to board the plane, everyone now knowing we were the food allergy family and we uncomfortably took our seats to fly home.Three studies have examined air travel and found that, based on passengers’ reports, there have been peanut and tree nut reactions on airplanes. In a University of California study of 471 people known to have severe peanut, nut or seed allergies, almost 10 percent reported a reaction, one-third of which were consistent with anaphylaxis.
Through this ordeal I unfortunately found out that there are no laws covering the needs of air travelers with food allergies. Decisions are left to the discretion of individual flight crews, or as we found out, one very confrontational manager, and not all are willing to comply. So my child’s safety, along with all other food allergy sufferers are left up to the luck of the draw of what flight crew or on the ground management you have.
People with severe food allergies are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act but what most people don’t know is that once you board a plane, you are no longer protected under that act. There needs to be legislation to protect food allergic passengers on airplanes. It is hard to believe that in this day and age with the immense prevalence of food allergies, especially in children, that the airlines do not have a consistent policy for travelers with food allergies. Awareness must be created and in turn a movement to push our government and airlines to create policies and put procedures in place to protect passengers with food allergies