On Monday, February 17th, my 15-year old food-allergic son and I were traveling from Newark to Las Vegas (United Airlines # 665). Typically when we fly we ask the gate agent /flight attendant to make an announcement about the allergy. This is helpful because my son’s allergies have been airborne and nearby passengers are usually great about it and refrain from eating his allergens on board.
This type of announcement is allowed by United’s policy, in fact it was their employees who initially suggested it to us years ago. On this day however, we had the standard conversation with the gate agent and a flight attendant, but were told twice that making an announcement was illegal. We quietly informed them of their own policy, which allows for an announcement to be made, should the gate agent or flight attendant deem it necessary. Sensing defeat, we boarded and wiped down the seats and accepted that there would not be an announcement on the flight.
However, shortly before takeoff, a supervisor from Newark, angrily boarded the plane and approached us yelling. He said that if we had a problem with the United policy, we would be removed from the plane. We let him know that there was no problem, however he seemed intent on making this as big a deal as possible. For no apparent reason, He continued to shout at my 15-year old son, and told the other passengers around us that if ‘this boy with the food allergies’ was an inconvenience to them, he would happily upgrade them to a better seat. My son sat there mortified and filled with shame. In front of my son, one of the other passengers insisted on a better seat because she ‘didn’t want to be restricted on the flight.’
After the plane took off, one of the flight attendants, knelt down beside my son and started to cry, apologizing for the mistreatment, as she had simply called for the supervisor to clarify what the policy was. She was so upset about his discriminatory behavior, and the way that the other passengers behaved, that she insisted that my son and I be taken to another seat for the rest of the flight. However, we had already wiped down our seats, so we declined, but she continued to come over between 15 and 20 times throughout the flight to apologize, crying and begging us to move. She promised us she would make a report about the discriminatory actions of said supervisor.
A few days later, United Airlines Customer Service representative, called offered and us a $150 voucher for our inconvenience. I explained that the treatment we faced was more than an inconvenience, it was pure discrimination. I explained that food allergies are a disability and the supervisors actions were no different than shaming a wheelchair-bound child for inconveniencing other passengers. In addition, the compensation he was offering was less than what travelers receive when they give up their seat on an overbooked flight. I explained that his offer needed to acknowledge the severity of their actions and that his offer was insulting. I asked for the name of a supervisor and he told me he had none and speaks for the CEO and executive team. I repeated the request and he refused to elevate the complaint.