Advocacy Update: Responses to the American Airlines Complaint

In January 2017, FARE filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding American Airlines’ written policy prohibiting passengers with food allergies from exercising their rights under the Air Carrier Access Act to declare their disability and pre-board the aircraft. As part of its ongoing advocacy work on behalf of the food allergy community, FARE filed a second, formal complaint with the Department of Transportation requesting that the DOT investigate and take immediate steps to bring American Airlines into compliance with its legal obligations pursuant to the ACAA.

Last month FARE asked the community to share their own experiences of difficulty pre-boarding with American Airlines. Here is a sampling of what FARE has heard so far from the food allergy community on this ongoing issue.

Each time in the past 5 years since my daughter was diagnosed with a peanut, tree nut and shellfish allergy and we have flown, I have asked to board early.  I have always been denied. It is frightening enough to be isolated from medical care with only our epinephrine auto-injector on a flight, but to also not know if the crew will assist if there were an emergency increases the stress. They seem to deny that food allergy is a disability and a severe medical condition.  Airlines should comply with the laws and allow EVERY disability the same courtesy and compassion.  It is a matter of life and death for us and hundreds of thousands of others. – Alicia W.

We have status on this airline and in the past, we felt comfortable flying them as they didn’t serve peanuts on board. Our opinions changed when we were refused pre-boarding on November 25, 2016 at MIA. We were returning home and were told by the check-in agent that we would be able to get on early and clean the seats. When the boarding process started, the gate agent refused to let us on. He also was incredibly rude. I even asked if I could go clean the seats and my husband would wait with the boys. He would not allow that either. We have noticed a change in this airline and their refusal to allow pre-boarding. In the past, they would allow it and now we see that is no longer protocol.  We have flown them exclusively for 10 years and will now give up our status and fly other airlines. – Keren M.

I am fatally allergic to peanuts and all forms of nuts. Prior to my trip to Aruba, I called the airline several times to ensure safety during the trip. I was repeatedly told that I would be okay and to just notify an employee prior to boarding. When I got to the airport and began to check in, I told the employees and attendants about my allergies. The gate agent told me I could not pre-board the plane. It was my first trip alone without my parents. I was very reluctant to board the plane without the time to pre-board but did not know what else to do. The entire flight was very uncomfortable and a nerve-wracking experience. – Grace F.

If you have been denied pre-boarding by American Airlines, we want to hear from you. Your complaint will be forwarded to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Submit your complaint here.

*Note: Responses have been edited for clarity and length.