United Airlines is updating its onboard allergen policy, offering specific guidance to flight attendants on how to handle passengers who claim to have a severe allergy.
Onboard Allergen Policy Details How United Airlines Handles Passengers With Severe Allergies
In a memo reviewed by Live and Let’s Fly, United lays out its updated onboard allergen policy.
When a passenger notifies flight attendants of a severe allergy, flight attendants should offer to inform other passengers seated in the vicinity:
When made aware of a customer with a severe allergy onboard, ask the customer if they would like you to inform passengers nearby of the allergy. If they say yes, you may inform nearby passengers by using the following verbiage: “We have been advised that a customer seated near you has a severe allergy. For the safety and comfort of everyone, we are passing on that customer’s request that you refrain from opening or using/eating any products you may have brought on board. Thank you for your understanding, which we greatly appreciate.”
Note the verbiage places the flight attendant in the role of messenger rather than enforcer.
We should inform the passenger that, while we will pass on their request to nearby passengers, we cannot guarantee that other customers will not eat food containing the allergen that they have brought on board and cannot guarantee an allergen-free buffer zone on the aircraft. Confirm that they still wish to take the flight.
Passengers will be warned that a 100% safe environment cannot be created and they will be offered a chance to step off the aircraft, knowing there will be some risk.
Flight attendants are also advised they can establish a buffer zone in an effort to protect the allergic passenger:
The flight attendants can then attempt to create an allergy buffer zone after providing a warning to the customer that an allergen-free flight or zone cannot be guaranteed, nor can we police the food items our customers eat. To establish a buffer zone, the passenger with a severe allergy should not be seated in the bank of seats where the allergen is located or facing the bank of seats where the allergen is located. “Bank of seats” is defined as seats that are immediately adjacent to each other. Flight attendants may reseat the customer with the allergies or may reseat the customer who has the allergen. Use your best judgment when determining the course of action for protecting the customer with the allergy.
While a buffer zone is optional on most flights, on flights to/from Canada it is mandatory upon request.
On flights to and from Canada, the above procedure is a requirement by the Canadian government for customers with severe allergies who have requested United to establish an allergy buffer zone. Under Canadian law, after the customer with a severe allergy makes this request, the above steps must be taken.
This buffer zone, even though guaranteed under Canadian law, is by request only.
Peanuts are a particular concern considering more tend to be allergic to those and those reactions can quickly become deadly. United does not serve peanuts onbaord, but some of its food may contain trace amounts of peanuts or be processed in a facility that also processes peanuts.
In order to be sensitive to customers who are allergic to peanuts and products that contain peanuts or peanut oils, United does not board pre-packaged peanuts. Some food offerings may still contain trace amounts of peanuts or may have been processed in facilities that handle peanuts. Our policy is compliant with all applicable regulations. We do not offer to remove peanut-based products from a flight at a customer’s request. While we cannot guarantee that a flight will be peanut free, we can demonstrate that we care about the well-being of customers who have a peanut allergy by following our onboard allergen policy.
Don’t expect a bag of peanuts on your next United flight.
Website Vs. Memo
You’ll find much less info on the United website concerning passengers with allergies. If anything, the policy seems far less accommodating to passengers with allergies than United is in practice:
For operational reasons, we cannot remove any onboard products based on individual customer requests, and we do not guarantee allergen-free buffer zones on our aircraft. Since we cannot guarantee allergen-free flights and cannot prevent customers from consuming allergen-containing products, we encourage customers to review any health concerns with their physicians prior to flying.
United says its onboard allergin policy is compliant with applicable regulations and demonstrates care for the well-being of guests who have allergies. While United will not guarantee an allergy-free flight (literally impossible unless passengers are not allowed to consume their own food onboard), it has taken steps to create a more inviting environment for those traveling with severe allergies.