From time to time we hear stories about people with severe nut allergies suffering strong reactions on airplanes. In one recent case, a United Airlines flight bound for Singapore diverted after a passenger incident onboard. Sometimes diversions are not caused by humans that are nuts, but by literal ones.
United Airlines Flight Diverts To Honolulu Over Nut Allergy
Last Saturday, United flight 1, from San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SFO) departed slightly behind schedule at 11:47 pm. The Boeing 787-9 aircraft was operating United’s longest flight, blocked at 16 hours and 15 minutes.
About five hours into the flight a medical emergency occurred onboard and the decision was taken to divert to Honolulu, even though the Midway Atoll was closer. That made sense, though, because Midway may be able to handle a Dreamliner, but Honolulu is a United focus city with the infasttecuture in place to better handle the displaced passengers and most importantly the patient.
Reaching Honolulu, however, required a detour of over 2.5 hours. Finally, the plane touched down at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) at 4:48 am.
It’s not like United could just drop off the sick passenger and take off again. Even with four pilots onboard, the crew became “illegal” (meaning it could not continue working per Federal Aviation Administration regulations) and therefore the flight was canceled and re-scheduled for the following evening about 18 hours later, giving the crew sufficient time to rest.
This was Labor Day in Hawaii and although United Airlines tried to book passengers in hotels, there were capacity issues and some passengers were given a $200 virtual credit card which they could use to arrange their own accommodations and meals (sidenote – I’m not sure how far $200 went in Honolulu over a busy holiday weekend marking the end of summer….).
At 12:28 am on Monday, September 5, the flight took off, landing in Singapore 11.5 hours later.
Nut Allergies Are Real…And Difficult For Airlines
While details are slim concerning the nature of the nut allergy onboard, we do know it was deemed sufficient enough for United to divert. As a general policy, United does not make special accommodations for nut allergies:
Due to the presence of food allergens in the processing environment and in meals and snacks served, United cannot guarantee an allergen-free meal or environment on its flights. Further, it is not possible to prevent customers from bringing food items on board that contain major food allergens including peanuts. If you have a severe food allergy and are traveling on flights between the U.S. and Canada, please notify a flight attendant on board the aircraft you request an allergy buffer zone so we can notify customers seated nearby to refrain from eating any allergen-containing products they may have brought on board.
For operational reasons, we cannot remove any onboard products based on individual customer requests, and we do not offer allergen-free buffer zones on our aircraft. Since we cannot guarantee allergen-free flights, we encourage customers to review any health concerns with their physicians prior to flying.
One Mile At A Time opines that “most airlines just don’t care enough” to voluntarily enact strict nut protocols, as is required in Canada, which mandates airlines to create buffer zones around passengers with nut allergies on all flights.
I think the better way to think about it than apathy is a calculated risk over liability. Carriers that promise buffer zones open themselves to liability when a passenger fails to comply. We’ve had the debate before over personal responsibility versus accommodation for those with disabilities and I don’t think we need to rehash that again.
> Read More On Nut Allergies
- Turkish Airlines Kicks Off Six-Year-Old So It Can Serve Nuts In Business Class
- Emirates Tells Passengers With Severe Nut Allergy To Sit In Lavatory…For 7 Hours
- Korean Air Ejects Passengers With Peanut Allergy. Fair?
- Woman With Nut Allergy Thrown Off American Airlines Flight Because Flight Attendants Claim They Are “Contractually Obliged To Serve Hot Mixed Nuts In First And Business Class”
I will say that allergic reactions to nuts are a lethal danger for some passengers and rather than snort at those passengers with contempt, I think it is appropriate to be mindful of their reasonable concerns. At the same time, those allergy-prone passengers must carefully weigh the risks of flying, as there is no such thing as full protection.
A United Airlines flight diverted to Honolulu after a severe nut allergy onboard. Because we don’t know the context of what it happened (and United has refused to provide specifics), it is not helpful to speculate. However, the general issue of nuts on planes with allergic passengers continues to be prescient as such allergies seem to be increasing in the western world. We will be hearing about these incidents more often in the years to come, I suspect. That makes it a good time for airlines to critically examine their approach to such issues.