This December, Sophie Draper, a 26-year-old with a severe allergy to tree nuts, was booked to fly from London Heathrow to New York JFK via American Airlines (AA). She said she attempted to warn the airline of her allergy but was unable to do so from their online booking form.
When checking in, she was told to speak to the gate staff to discuss accommodations.
Draper said the gate staff looked confused when told about her food allergy. She was then taken to speak with the head of the cabin crew who told her the airline was “contractually obliged to serve hot mixed nuts in first and business classes” and that it was “against company policy” to make announcements relating to food allergies.
Draper’s allergy is sensitive enough that inhaled particles of tree nuts that become airborne could be sufficient to trigger a reaction. Simply removing nuts from economy class would not have been sufficient to protect her.
She told HuffPost UK:
American Airlines made me feel like my health and safety and that of others with severe food allergies is not important. I have no control over my nut allergy and the danger it presents to my life if I were to go into anaphylaxis.
Adults and children with severe nut allergies already face many barriers to travel and experiences, the least airlines could do is take this health condition seriously by making appropriate announcements and replacing nuts with another snack.
Her boyfriend asked one of the crew what would happen if she were to go into anaphylactic shock while flying over the Atlantic to which the member reportedly replied by asking her: “He knows how to use your EpiPen, right?”
Back in 2016, 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse suffered anaphylaxis aboard a flight from London to Nice after reacting to a sandwich purchased at London Heathrow. Despite her father administering two epinephrine auto-injectors and a junior doctor administering more, Natasha suffered cardiac arrest and died.
I broke down in tears. I felt totally discriminated against for a health condition I have no control over.
The couple was escorted from the plane and their bags were removed.
Draper said other AA staff were sympathetic and walked her to the British Airways desk to rebook her flight. British Air was much more accommodating.
They stopped serving all nut products, made multiple announcements about there being a passenger with a nut allergy, and personally spoke with all passengers within a number of rows of me.
Unfortunately, the couple’s luggage was lost during the commotion of switching airlines and they had to spend hours upon their arrival in New York to track them down.
Draper went public with her story on Twitter when American had not responded to her complaint lodged over a month earlier.
HuffPost UK contacted American about the incident and Draper has since been contacted by the airline.
Said an AA spokesperson to HuffPost:
Protecting the health and safety of those who fly with us is our priority, and it’s essential to our purpose of caring for our customers as they travel. We regret that we disappointed Ms. Draper and her travel partner during this trip, and our team has reached out to apologise and hear more about their experience.
I did want to wait until AA contacted us as they said they would respond to our complaint within a month but that time has passed and we have heard nothing so I doubt they treated it seriously.
It deeply concerns me that policies like those of AA probably won’t change until something awful happens like a fatality.
A food allergy is a handicap that should be accommodated by every airline, but many do not have policies in place to ensure the safety of passengers who are allergic.
We appreciate British Airways’ accommodation of Ms Draper which proves that airlines can make appropriate accommodations if they value all their customers including those with life-threatening allergies.
If you have a food allergy, make that known when booking your flight. If you are unable to do so at the time of booking, note your confirmation number and call the airline well in advance of your flight to inform them of your allergy and verify with them that you can be safely accommodated. If not, book with another airline.
Have you ever been denied accommodation of your food allergy by an airline? Please comment below and tell us about your experience.