Flying as a food allergic family is often similar to a game of chance. It seems that every flight is an experience unto itself, even on the same carrier.
Different crews seem to make different decisions on how to treat those with a food allergy. My first blog on Huffington highlights the stress a parent can feel when your child’s safety is dependent on the mood of a flight crew.
As founder of No Nut Traveler, I tell people how to wisely choose an airline, research food allergy polices and take simple precautions to mitigate their risk.
I believe the most critical precaution one can take is to pre-board the aircraft in order to be able to thoroughly clean the area from the last occupant. This becomes even more important if the airline you have chosen serves your allergen. Children are especially likely to put their hands in their mouths. Those of us without food allergies worry about the germ factor on planes, but for a food allergic person, what was eaten before we boarded is potentially lethal if we touch it and then ingest it.
As a food allergy parent, it is far more difficult and time consuming to do a thorough cleaning during the general boarding process. Don’t just take my word for it ― there is data that indicates that pre-boarding decreases the risk of an in-flight reaction.
Can an airline prohibit a passenger from pre-boarding if they disclose a food allergy? American Airlines seems to think so as evidenced by their clear policy. But Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) and Attorney Mary Vargas disagree.
Today, FARE with the assistance of lawyer Mary Vargas of Stein & Vargas filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) over American Airlines’ policy not to allow pre-boarding in order to wipe down the seating area.
Attorney Mary Vargas told me that “Today FARE drew a line in the sand and asked DOT to enforce its own regulations to protect those with food allergies in air travel. American Airlines cannot be allowed to deny federally protected rights.”
FARE states in the complaint “As an organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with food allergies, FARE’s mission is directly impacted by American Airlines’ explicit and discriminatory policy of denying pre-boarding to individuals with food allergies.”
FARE is asking for: “full and complete retraction of the discriminatory policy and mandated training to ensure American Airlines adopts a uniform approach to prevent its employees from continuing to apply discriminatory policies against those with allergies.”
To the naysayers who tell us to just choose another airline- I remind you that sometimes the airline with the least accommodating policy is the only one that can get you to your destination on time. I ask you to put yourselves in the shoes of someone who needs to attend a funeral, say goodbye to a sick or ailing relative, participate in a sports competition, attend a work or school event or report to a military base.
The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. It is my humble opinion that American’s policy goes against both the spirit and the letter of the ACAA. I am optimistic that DOT will enforce its own regulations.