I had to chuckle at the reason why a woman was recently thrown off an American Airlines: because flight attendants claimed they were not allowed to avoid serving nuts onboard. But this is actually no laughing matter.
Woman With Nut Allergy Removed From American Airlines Flight
26-year-old Sophie Draper was set to fly on American Airlines from London to New York. Draper suffers a severe allergic reaction when exposed to tree nuts. During booking, she looked for a place to indicate she had a nut allergy, but found no place to make such a notation.
During check-in, she mentioned it to the check-in agent and was told to speak to the gate agent. At the gate, the agents told her to speak to the cabin crew. Onboard, she spoke to the purser, who said they were “contractually obliged to serve hot mixed nuts in first and business class” and that it was “against company policy” to make announcements relating to food allergies.
Even though she was flying in economy class, which does not serve nuts, the presence of nuts in business and first class poses the risk of anaphylaxis if allergens travel airborne.
She told the 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.”
When Draper’s boyfriend asked what would happen if she went into anaphylactic shock over the Atlantic, a flight attendant allegedly responded by looking to Draper and saying, “He knows how to use your EpiPen, right?”
But sensing a problem, the couple were removed from the flight (the crew said they were uncomfortable with the couple). When they were rebooked on British Airways, the experience was very different. Draper explained:
“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.”
She made it home safely (though her bags were delayed). Later, she recounted the incident on Twitter:
Getting kicked-off an American Airlines flight because of my nut allergy (and why they are a dangerous airline for people with food allergies) ✈️🥜
— Sophie Draper (@EnergySoph) February 6, 2022
An American Airlines spokesperson noted:
“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 apologize and hear more about their experience.”
I wrote about a similar issue a few years ago on Korean Airlines and said at the time:
Airlines are in a difficult position on this issue. I understand the liability and it’s not totally unreasonable to wonder why 400 people should suffer on account of one or two. But put it in perspective. What’s more important? Your enjoyment of a bag of peanuts or a Thai dish with spicy peanut sauce or the life of another person? As annoying as it is, I’m willing to forgo peanuts. But I also don’t want an airline to be sued if they ask other passengers not to consume their own peanut-based products they have brought onboard and that request is ignored.
My opinion has not changed: there may be limits to accommodation, but it seems American Airlines could have done a bit more in this case and certainly should not have been so seemingly callous.
That said, if this truly is a life and death situation, you would think the passenger might also want to reach out to American Airlines in advance, at least to have it notated on her itinerary. That might have given AA more time to find a reasonable accommodation (like an alternate snack for business and first class). I don’t blame Draper, though…stating her concern at the airport probably should have been enough.
We’re all in this together. I hope we would all put aside short-term enjoyment in order to protect our vulnerable seatmates from a severe reaction. As much as I love warmed mixed nuts when I fly in the forward cabin of a U.S. carrier, I’d give it up for one flight under these circumstances. But if I knew I was going to die if I came into contact with traces of tree nuts in the air, I doubt you’d see me on a plane very often.