Flying with Food Allergies
This guest post by Teen Advisory Group (TAG) member Hadley Husisian addresses the concerns she has as a traveler with nut allergies. This is part of a series addressing a variety of experiences and food allergies from FARE’s TAG members.
This summer, Southwest Airlines, an airline commercially known for its peanut snacks, announced that it would no longer serve peanuts on board so that all customers could feel safe as they travel. As a nut-allergy sufferer, I was ecstatic that Southwest made this groundbreaking decision. However, as someone who has flown hundreds of times over the last few years, I worry that this decision solves only part of the problem.
Because I am a competitive fencer, I travel to tournaments across the United States several times a month. Each time, I have always made sure to give my peanut allergy card to the flight attendant so that no peanut snacks are served. Often, the airline makes a public announcement that there is a customer onboard with a severe nut allergy and that no peanut snacks will be served on that particular flight.
At least a third of the time, a passenger will boo loudly at this announcement. Other passengers sometimes will join the booing or complain loudly about the lack of peanut snacks. I was very young when I began travelling and felt uncomfortable when adults booed at something that had been caused by my health conditions.
As a teenager now, I still don’t understand why many passengers feel that it is acceptable to voice their displeasure so openly and loudly. If a passenger in a wheelchair needed extra time to board, would others feel it is permissible to boo and complain that this person’s disability inconvenienced their trip? Food allergies are a disability as well, and one that can be life threatening.
I also am disheartened by how many passengers will then consume their own nut snacks despite the airline’s announcement. Once, a man sitting next to me pulled out a large plastic baggie of pistachios less than a minute after the announcement and began eating, dropping some of the shells on my lap before my parents could stop him. I wish I could say that this was the only time that something like this has happened. There are other similar situations where this has happened to people with other kinds of food allergies as well.
On my most recent flight, a woman boarding behind us noticed my mother wiping down the seats and trays with a disinfectant wipe. The woman loudly told the flight attendant, “I guess I won’t be able to eat the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich I brought.” I felt uncomfortable again, but was grateful that she chose not to eat the sandwich. Many others would not have made the same decision.
When people with food allergies fly, they are trapped in an airplane careening along at 30,000 feet with no access to emergency help. I have been hospitalized for anaphylactic shock in the past. I can imagine how awful it would be to feel my throat closing, my face and lips swelling, and to be gasping for air when there is no chance of receiving emergency medical help. When I fly, I like to snack on Fig Newtons and look forward to them each time. However, if I were told that someone on my flight could potentially die due to exposure to my food, I would choose not to eat my snack without a second thought. I wish all airline passengers readily would do the same for other passengers with food allergies.