If you fly on airlines, read this…
Originally submitted to the AllergyKids Foundation by Nancy Myrick June 13 2010
We learned early on that our son Sinclair had a severe peanut allergy. In his earliest childhood he went to the hospital several times with hives and at times even labored breathing. He went through testing and his allergist explained to us that we must remove all peanut products from our home and always have and epi pen with us.
During the summer of 2006 (Sinclair was 6) I learned more about the awful realities of Sinclair’s peanut allergy. Sinclair was flying back to California with a grandparent following a visit with them. Somewhere between Monroe, LA and Dallas, TX, he either ingested a peanut, inhaled peanut dust or had contact with peanut products. We don’t know which or where but the fact that he was in a very small plane trapped on the tarmac for 4 hours before leaving Monroe could well have been the reason. When he reached Dallas he was taken by ambulance out of DFW airport to Baylor Hospital. He was treated at the hospital where he remained for several hours and then allowed to fly home. Knowing what I know now, I would have never allowed that flight. Soon after his return Sinclair had two more reactions from the same peanut that included two more emergency room visits, the last causing anaphylaxis in which his face became so distorted he was nearly unrecognizable. Sinclair almost died that night. His allergy had a grip on the entire family.
When we fly I have learned to accept that I will likely be met with skepticism and have to jump through hoops to be able to have some reasonable comfort about avoiding anaphylactic shock at 30,000 feet. It can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. I have often thought to myself how reassuring it would be to have a clearly stated airline policy, any policy, on what they would like me to do – what they expect of me and what I can expect of them. Most gate agents and flight attendants are well intended but you really never know when you are going to encounter someone on a bad day, or someone who doesn’t believe there is even such a thing as a life threatening food allergy. There seems to be little institutional awareness or training and so each individual airline employee seems to present another potential level of screening or someone who may need to be persuaded. And you do all this in the presence of your child not sure of what psychological burden your imposing on him by suggesting his life may be in the balance.
To summarize the events of November 29, 2009 on a flight returning to San Francisco, ordeal, we were abruptly told we had to leave the plane; and unceremoniously marched off the plane after suggesting that we’d like to be seated somewhere where person next to us was willing to refrain from eating peanuts. While my son cried, we were taken off the plane and made to stand in the jet way for 20 minutes without anyone from AA even speaking to us to indicate what was going on or whether we were being booted from the flight. Finally the gate agent asked me, “do you have an epi pen” which seemed like a good question, if only asked an hour before. They finally put us back on the plane after calling a woman who never introduced herself and who never asked us any questions but made comments like, “most of the time people just take their medicine before getting on the plane”.
After reaching out to my Congresswoman’s office and several allergy agencies, I was told to look at the Air Carrier Access Act. After reading it I felt completely confident that what had happened to my son and I had been wrong and I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”) on January 15, 2010 and received a response from the DOT General Counsel stating that no rule was violated by American Airlines since at the end of the day, we were in fact transported back to San Francisco. Anything goes if we get you home. The DOT went on to say:
“. . . at this time carriers are not required to make any accommodations requested by, or on the behalf of, passengers with severe allergies to peanuts based on past guidance provided to the Department by Congress.
So the reality of flight on a domestic carrier is that while any given flight attendant may agree to a dispensation or accommodation, there are no formal procedures or policies except that a passenger should be responsible for managing an exposure.
The Department of Transportation is proposing to improve the air travel environment for consumers in several areas including individuals with peanut allergies. They are asking for comments to be filed in order to obtain information to support the protections originally intended in the Air Carrier Access Act for passengers with severe allergies. Some of the options they are considering are:
“ (1) Banning the serving of peanuts and all peanut products by both U.S. and foreign carriers on flights covered by DOT’s disability rule; (2) banning the serving of peanuts and all peanut products on all such flights where a passenger with a peanut allergy is on board and has requested a peanut-free flight in advance; or (3) requiring a peanut-free buffer zone in the immediate area of a passenger with a medically-documented severe allergy to peanuts if passenger has requested a peanut-free flight in advance. We seek comment on these approaches as well as the question of whether it would be preferable to maintain the current practice of not prescribing carrier practices concerning the serving of peanuts”
DOT is going to be writing rules and providing guidance re rights of passengers with severe peanut allergies. Here is the opportunity for all to provide comments about what those rules should look like. You can make comments until August 9, 2010, and there are several ways to do so, the easiest of which is to go to www.regulationroom.com and register, sign in and make a comment about what you think. Or use the Federal eRulemaking Portal which can be found by clicking here.
Please make your comments. Your support can make a difference. Simply visit the Federal eRulemaking Portal which can be found by clicking here and together, we can affect remarkable change.