Rebecca Hanau was on a Delta Airlines flight from Wisconsin to Atlanta when a flight attendant asked her if she would like a granola bar. Hanau, who has an allergy to tree nuts, asked whether the bar contained nuts to which the flight attendant responded that it did not.
Hanau took a few bites of the granola bar and began to feel the symptoms of a reaction come on. Upon reading the wrapper, shed discovered the bar did indeed contain nuts.
She immediately called the flight attendant to warn her that she was having a reaction and that she needed epinephrine. That’s when any semblance that the airline was prepared for a medical emergency went out the window.
In order to open the emergency medical kit, the crew had to radio for the code. The flight attendant said they were having difficulty getting the code due to poor connectivity.
Meanwhile, as the minutes were ticking away, Ms Hanau’s condition was getting worse. She began feeling lightheaded and fuzzy.
Some ten minutes later, the crew was finally able to get the emergency medical kit open, upon which they discovered that the kit contained a vial of epinephrine and a syringe. They had no idea how much of the drug to draw or how to administer a syringe.
Luckily there were two nurses aboard who guessed at an appropriate dose and administered the drug. Upon receiving the epinephrine, Hanau’s symptoms eased.
“If those two nurses weren’t there I wouldn’t have made it. That’s just all there is to it,” Hanau said.
Hanau says her ordeal shows that flight crews must receive better training to be able to cope with anaphylactic emergencies and that emergency medical kits aboard flights should contain stock epinephrine auto-injectors, which are premeasured, prefilled, single-use devices that are faster to administer and require significantly less training to administer that vial-drawn epinephrine.
“You have to get EpiPen on your flights. This is unacceptable and life-threatening,” she said.
Although regulations require epinephrine to be available on every plane, Senator Mark Warner plans to reintroduce legislation requiring epinephrine auto-injectors.
“The EpiPen you can do an auto inject and it acts much quicker. This is common sense. So let’s be smart and put an EpiPen on every plane,” he said.
A spokesperson for Delta told CBS 6 that Hanau had not informed the airline of her food allergies in advance and insisted their flight attendants are rigorously trained on procedures and equipment to prepare for medical events.
Here is a CBS 6 report on the incident:
We are relieved to learn Ms Hanau survived and wish her well after her harrowing ordeal. Air travel can be especially concerning for individuals coping with food allergies as her account shows.
Delta’s bears the lion’s share of the responsibility and their response is entirely unacceptable.
First, the flight attendant should never have opined whether the granola bar she offered was nut-free without examining the label. If this indeed happened as reported, it was an egregious error that could have resulted in Ms Hanau’s death.
Second, an emergency medical kit that requires a code relayed from the ground to open introduces unnecessary delay and courts disaster. The code could easily be located in the cockpit if there is concern that access to the kit must be controlled.
Last, it is readily evident the flight staff was entirely unprepared to deal with an anaphylactic emergency which begs the question, “What good is having a life-saving drug aboard if the crew is unable to administer it properly?” The airline should thank their lucky stars there were nurses aboard willing to guess at the appropriate dose and administer the epinephrine, all while risking personal liability in the matter. Delta should ensure their staff is appropriately trained.
That said, Ms Hanau also bears some responsibility for the incident.
She should have had two of her own epinephrine auto-injectors aboard in case of this very scenario. Epinephrine is the only drug that can halt and reverse the progression of life-threatening anaphylaxis and every individual prescribed an auto-injector should have two on hand wherever they go. Never rely on someone else to provide epinephrine in an emergency.
Also, Ms Hanau should not have relied solely on the flight attendant’s determination whether her allergen of concern was an ingredient of the bar. Before consuming any packaged food, every individual with a food allergy should inspect the label to determine whether it is safe for their consumption. Better yet, bring your own food and snacks on board to eliminate the opportunity for mistakes.
Please take extra care when traveling. Minimize the opportunities when you must rely on staff for your safety and always make sure to take two epinephrine auto-injectors along everywhere, every time.