Nut allergies are real and U.S. law also takes them seriously when it comes to commercial flying. Sadly, a frequent traveler shares of a less-than-acceptable experience on a United Express flight followed by a poor follow-up from United Airlines. Her story provides an instructive lesson.
A Nutty Response To An Unnecessary Nut Allergy Incident On United Airlines
Let’s first recount what happened to the passenger, who has filed a U.S. Department of Transportation complaint under Jane Doe to protect her privacy.
- The flight incident occurred on June 19, 2022 on United Airlines flight 4325 from Huntsville (HSV) to Washington (IAD), operated by CommuteAir
- CommuteAir operates regional flights for United Airlines under the United Express brand
- Per the policy of United, Doe alerted the flight attendant of her nut allergy after boarding
- United’s website says, “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 to 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.”
- The flight attendant became hostile, raising her voice and stating, “Are you sure you can fly? Do you want to die in the sky?”
- Doe assured the flight attendant she could fly, but the flight attendant said she did not want to have to “epi” Doe and then disappeared
- Moments later, a gate agent showed up and told Doe that she could not travel on the flight
- The gate agent did this by loudly asking, “Are you the woman with the peanut allergy?,” then stating, “You need to leave the plane. You didn’t declare the nut allergy on your travel reservation, you can’t fly with United.”
- After Doe stepped off the aircraft, the pilot stepped off and said that because almonds were being sold onboard, she did not feel it was safe for her to fly
- With no other flights that night to Washington, DC and a commitment the following day, Doe was advised to book with another airline
- She ended up driving, incurring travel-related expenses totaling $1,427.31, including $1,053.08 for a one-way car rental
- Upon her return to Washington, she began a conversation with United Airlines customer service over the incident
- Her flight cost ($730.20) was refunded
- Doe also requested that her one-way car rental and associated expenses be compensated
- United initially offered her a $300 travel voucher or $200 in cash
- After pushing back, United upped the offer to $300 in cash
- Later, United Airlines said, “After some discussion with the Captain, it was determined the safest thing would be to ask you to deplane and be re-booked for a less full flight.”
- Of course, most flights are full these days and there were no later flights…
I see two problems here. First, the poorly-trained flight crew improperly handled the situation. United’s policy is clear: those passengers with nut allergies are not unfit to fly:
Second, United Airlines had a chance to make this right after the fact and failed in refusing to compensate Doe for her reasonable expenses incurred as a direct result of United’s improper denial of boarding.
Doe did not make any unreasonable demands: she simply alerted the flight attendant of her tree nut allergy. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of this allergy and if her allegations are true, United simply failed here.
Doe is being represented by Mary Vargas, a prominent disability rights attorney. Her aim is not a payday from United, but simply compensation for her expenses and a change in DOT policy that clarifies rights for passengers with severe allergies.
I spoke to Lianne Mandelbaum, Founder of No Nut Traveler, Inc., who expressed dismay about the incident:
“I am truly shocked by the blatant discriminatory behavior displayed by United towards this business traveler with a tree nut allergy. It is utterly unacceptable as food allergy is a recognized disability under the ACAA. No child or adult with a food allergy should ever be humiliated or thrown off a flight due to this legitimate medical condition.
“I am grateful that disability rights attorney Mary Vargas is representing this traveler because this complaint is about far more than reimbursement. It is my hope that DOT will lay down basic guidelines and require training so that other travelers with a food allergy are protected from such behavior in the future.”
I have seen serious food allergies wreak havoc on others and wish such an affliction on no one. Part of honoring the dignity of every human being is making reasonable accommodations to mitigate harm. I do not think Doe is asking anything unreasonable…this should be an easy case for United’s “Good Leads The Way” campaign.
Live and Let’s Fly reached out to United earlier this week concerning this incident and did not receive a reply.
A United flyer claims she was thrown off a flight for simply verbalizing her tree nut allergy and United has failed to compensate her reasonable expenses incurred as a result of her denied boarding event. I am hopeful United will take corrective action now that this issue has been raised to the DOT and more importantly, that United will train its regional pilots, flight attendants, and ground staff to act with more common sense and compassion when encountering a passenger with a tree nut allergy.
image: Adam Moreira
This was United after all, she’s lucky they didn’t administer a beating and drag her ass off the plane for being an uppity allergic bitch.
It’s old. Shut up.
That’s the best you can do?
I agree , it’s old.
Get a better come back.
I agree , it’s old.
Get a better come back.
Further it’s a similar situation, not really United, when are these airlines going to figure out their sub-contractors drag them down.
It is ironic that the founder of No Nut Traveler is named Mandelbaum (“almond tree” in German).
if Kirby expects to succeed, he should spend some more time on customer centric services for the airline.
if not, they (and he)will surely fail.
United also pulled its ads from Twitter because of so-called “hate speech”.
They are caving to the woke mob.
Well let’s hope so as being woke means nothing more than being understanding and empathetic to others and their experience. I guess it would be better if they just lied about everything the way in which those who use woke in a pejorative sense do about everything from masks, to election results, to the idea a big orange clown is the second coming.
If that’s you being empathetic and understanding you need to try harder. Uter hypocrite.
Nah, he’s making sense.
Everyone has decided that passenger is telling the complete truth and certainly has no motive and nothing to gain (said sarcastically.) I drove a Yukon from California to Boston for $250 total. And she had $1,000+????
I think most of us are more clever when it comes to one-way car rentals than the average renter. One-way surcharges can be treasonously high.
Maybe a post related to this issue? How to be a savvy car renter without paying all those high costs?
First, what Matthew said about the price–especially at the last minute.
Second, no disability rights attorney is taking that case without documented proof of her allergy. That attorney would lose her credibility if she didn’t verify Doe’s medical records and ensure that allergy was severe and existed long before that flight (and likely that she had previously disclosed to airlines without issue). It would behoove you to understand both matters before flinging insults at everyone who doesn’t align with your own views. I don’t have any allergies, but this story irks me to no end. She followed the policy and it did her no good. It could be us next time.
Commutair has a long history of either not training their crews on United policies, or simply not caring about the policies at all. I’ve personally witness Commutair FAs improperly apply the checked bag rule for basic economy to the entire economy cabin. United needs to keep their regional partners on a tighter leash, and step up when they mess up, but the core of this issue stems from mismanagement at Commutair.
Is this not just a case of a regional carrier being awful? Would not mind seeing regional carriers get absorbed into the mainline
The policy does say let them know onboard, but it also essentially says they won’t and can’t do much, and travel at your own risk. Seems about right.
Yeah, I agree, it seems like a “six of one, half dozen of the other” kind of situation. Thing is, if it’s ultimately an at your own risk policy, she should not have been kicked off.
I have a nut allergy. If I eat nuts or something with nuts in it, I could quickly die of asphyxiation. I also know it is totally absurd for an airline to deny boarding to someone just because there are nuts on the flight. Someone with a nut allergy like mine will get in trouble if they EAT the nuts, not if they’re NEAR the nuts. You could hold an open bag of almonds right in front of my face and nothing will happen.
Putting aside the passenger did exactly what United asks of her, both the FA and the Captain were and ill-informed and unprofessional.
Totally agree. I too have a severe nut allergy and fly frequently, avoiding eating any of he tasty-looking nuts served on AA or UA or whatever. While not diminishing the passenger’s experience in any way – clearly the crew and gate personnel were not well trained or very professional, the passenger also bears some responsibility. Remember the abusive “Emotional Support Pet” fiasco? Having severe allergies is no joke. Poor customer service is also no joke, but it is up to the passenger to be realistic in his/her expectations about being accommodated in crowded planes. United should pay for the rental car and gas and the matter could be closed.
I’m a frequent flier. I ALWAYS carry peanuts, almonds, macadamia nuts on every flight. If you have a nut allergy you better carry an epi-pen, always, just in case.
Does she walk into a restaurant and tell the waitress that she has a nut allergy and wants to have a barrier of empty tables around her?
If that is the restaurant’s policy then perhaps she does. The point is that it’s United’s policy.
And Wagamama stops serving anything with nuts in it.
Almonds are being *sold* on board. They’re not given out. Free snacks are pretzels, biscoff, and/or stroopwaffle. As a flight attendant, in this situation, I would not sell the almonds and make an announcement. That’s all we can really do.
What if someone else had brought onboard almonds or other nuts or simply had just eaten them and had those particles on them? The person with the allergy HAS to be better prepared and carry an epipen or similar measures. Short of that the airline cannot risk an inflight emergency 30,000 feet in the air.
I don’t believe the FA acted like that at all, or said those things. The pilot, maybe. Perhaps they saw a potential medical emergency or diversion and didn’t want to deal with that. If that were the case, I could certainly understand from their perspective, but at the same time, that’s not justification for denying a passenger to fly.
Read the UA allergy policy carefully, it’s clearly written in English.
It was not a flight between the US and Canada.
They do not offer allergy free buffer zones
They do not remove products on account of an individual passenger’s personal health problems
They advise individual passengers with personal health problems to seek the advice of a doctor prior to flight.
Why does this person feel they’re entitled to any special treatment or reimbursement?
Why did this person make a statement to an onboard crew member, yet said nothing prior to boarding?
Why would a person with a unique health issue not take reasonable personal precautions to protect themselves?
These stories of sad melting snowflakes expecting the world to cow down to their very personal problems are boring….stop stoking the “woke” fire, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen…..if being anywhere near a peanut makes you sick then stay at home.
Typical Karen. Buena suerte ya’ll
I can attest that mainline United FAs know and are trained about this- on a recent flight from Mexico to the US, I was asked to refrain from consuming anything with peanuts due to an allergic child in the row in front of me (dashing my hopes of enjoying my favorite flight snack, peanut M&Ms).
She did not Pre-Notify United of her problem..which makes it everyones problem…EPI-Pen please….
Isn’t better to throw her off the plane than have her claim a reaction while in flight claiming severe physical and mental harm.
Isn’t better to throw her off the plane than having her claim severe physical and mental harm due to a perceived reaction.