A woman who alerted Emirates that she was allergic to apples was instead interrogated by Emirates employees upon check-in and ultimately denied boarding.
The incident took place last year, but was discussed in the New York Times’ “Tripped Up” column this week. “Amanda” travelled to Africa on Emirates. She claims she notified Emirates via an online form and via telephone that she was severely allergic to apples.
But upon check-in in Cape Town for her return journey, when confirming that no apples would be onboard, she was instead met with the opposite of compassion and empathy. First, she was separated from her group and taken into a private room. Then, she was “interrogated and yelled at by Emirates employees.” After confirming that her doctor had cleared her to fly and she could even survive exposure to an apple in her vicinity, she was ultimately denied boarding.
Emirates refunded a prorated portion of her ticket, but she had to buy a pricey one-way ticket home (note: she probably should have booked a round-trip ticket to save money, even if she dumped the return leg).
When pressed by the New York Times, Emirates claimed it had not received any prior notification of the allergy:
“Our records do not reflect any mention of an apple allergy. When alerted of the severe allergy on the day of the flight, our ground staff followed procedure and offloaded [Amanda] to avoid endangering her life.”
Yet she did not report any trouble on the outbound flights…
Does The Law Protect Allergic Travelers?
There is no international law that protects airline travelers who suffer from allergies. However, in the United States carriers cannot discriminate on the basis of a life-threatening food allergy, which is deemed a disability under the Air Carrier Access Act. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation held earlier this year that passengers with food allergies must be allowed to pre-board in order to give them time to wipe down tray tables and seats (there’s a new trick for pre-boarding).
But the Air Carrier Access Act applies only to U.S. flag airlines or foreign airlines on flights touching U.S. soil. The Emirates flight from Cape Town to Dubai obviously did not touch the USA.
In short, Emirates can get away with exactly what it allegedly did.
The question of what rights passengers with allergies should be afforded is worthy of discussion. Wherever the accommodation line should be drawn, no passenger should have to face being shamed for her disability.