KLM Airline Confuses Allergies with Ingredient List -August 2019.
As anyone with potentially life threatening food allergies and asthma know, flying can be a daunting experience. In our family we have two children, ages 10 and 13, who are celiac and then I also have celiac disease, severe asthma, and soy and nut allergies.
During the summer of 2019, over the course of several weeks, we traveled overseas to vacation with family and friends in England, Denmark, and France. For the first part of our trip, we (my husband, our two children, and I) all travelled together on a WestJet flight from Calgary to London, England. After spending several days there, we flew from London to Copenhagen, Denmark, on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). These travel experiences were wonderful. We had reserved gluten free and nut free foods and we were, overall, happy with the service of WestJet and SAS. Both of these airlines made announcements regarding my anaphylactic nut allergy on board and we had no ill experiences. The WestJet flight attendants took the extra precaution on the transatlantic flight to ensure there were no passengers consuming nut products several rows, ahead of, behind, and to the side of where I sat.
After several weeks discovering and rediscovering Copenhagen and area (I was born and lived there until the age of 13) it was time to return to Calgary. On the return journey, my son and husband took a side trip to Paris and then flew back to Calgary prior to my daughter and I coming home two days later. My daughter and I were booked on a Delta flight, operated by KLM, from Copenhagen to Calgary with one stop in Amsterdam. My husband had contacted Delta Airlines to outline the severity of my allergies to nuts and also noted that both my daughter and I required gluten free meals, to be provided on the lengthy transatlantic flight
My husband had found the Delta Airlines booking system somewhat limiting in identifying allergy specifics, but through the booking system and follow up emails had received confirmation of the correct allergy details (see email thread, at end of this letter). My husband had forwarded to me all the exchange e-mails with the airline, which had given us a file number. He had also checked the details, by phone, with the customer care centre on the morning of the flight.
My daughter and I boarded the KLM flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands on August 11, 2019 for the flight back to Calgary. An announcement was made regarding my nut allergies and individuals sitting in our vicinity were asked to not consume nuts. After a few hours, we were given our meals.
My nine-year-old daughter began to eat and I had yet to open my meal when she, in a panic, informed me that she thought that there were nuts in the meal!
I could not believe it! On the packaging it is listed clearly that this is a gluten free meal. So, we got that one right (check!), and then my allergy information was outlined on the package: “Allergy-information: soy beans, nuts.” I initially assumed this related to my allergies, and that the meal was made in abstention of such ingredients. This could not have been further from the truth.
I called for a flight attendant who struggled, at first, to understand my issue. In fact, the Head attendant began to tell me that the “Allergy-information” was meant alert us to what was in the package (if so, why were there no other ingredients listed?) It all seemed, bizarre. Unbelievable! I was furious! We were on an eight-and-a-half-hour transatlantic flight north of the Arctic Circle, and I could have consumed this meal. The flight attendant failed to realize the seriousness at first. After a lot of back and forth, he took down my complaint which came with a “tracking number.”
The meals were removed and we were told that he could not be sure that there would be an alternative meal for us on the flight. About an hour later, I received a cheese plate left over from first class.
Since this event, my husband has been dealing with KLM’s customer service which seems to be completely unfazed about the seriousness of what had happened. In fact, a follow-up response from customer service missed the point entirely that nuts had been served to an allergic passenger midway through a transatlantic flight.
So, what is one to do? If we had posted our story on Facebook or other social media, maybe KLM would have been more acknowledging of our concern. We are still awaiting a response to our complaint from the COO. However, I felt a greater responsibility to share this story as it is an example of how “wrong” airlines can attempt to accommodate ones allergies. When I first looked at the cashews or peanuts in this meal, I kept poking at the nuts because I could not believe it! Imagine if the nuts had not been so visible? If, for example, they had been hidden under the chicken or the rice? Imagine how a nine-year old girl, flying alone with her mom, would have felt – she was mortified and petrified!
It is not a nine-year-old’s responsibility to have to watch what her mother is eating.
Will we fly again? Of course we will, but we will not be trusting any airline in providing me with a nut free meal. I don’t even understand why an airline would add nuts to any meal that they serve, considering the amount of people who have undiagnosed food allergies. We already know the issues related to Epi-pens in the sky – why would airlines not serve foods that are as far away as possible for the most common food allergens?
Mind boggling and baffling! So, despite the apparent food safety systems, please be doubly aware of any food that is put in front of you by an airline. Your best defence is your own observation, and, quite possibly, the sandwich you take from home.