“Americans have the right to eat nuts”

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After reading this article, I have to admit I was once again in despair about the heavy burden of food allergy parenting. Now, I know I should not complain, as we have been very lucky and things could be so much worse. But every once in a while, something like this happens and I just lose it for a minute.

Please do click through and read the Daily Mail’s article but the here’s the gist. A British family with a peanut allergic child traveled from England to the U.S. over the holidays. In theory, they did everything right by booking through a travel agent who alerted the airline about the allergy and confirming with airline representatives themselves several weeks in advance. They had a successful trip to their destination and a great vacation. However, on their return trip, when asking the gate agent to make an announcement on the plane requesting that other passengers refrain from eating nuts, they were refused entrance on the plane. Their tickets were cancelled and they were driven to a hotel. After two days, and a lot of stressful rearrangements, they were able to board a flight home.

Americans have the right to eat nuts: food allergy solution to air travel

Here’s what really gets me- this poor child was so distraught after his family’s ordeal that when a passenger opened a packet of nuts on the airplane, he had a panic attack. I can imagine just how terrified this child must have been to react in such a way. As his mother states, “My son has been left with a complex about his allergies following the ordeal, despite us always telling him it would not affect his life.” I can’t blame him- I think any of us would likely feel the same way.

This is exactly why we haven’t flown with our sons yet. This story validates my worst fears. Despite air travel pro tips from friends like Tiffany, we’re a road tripping family for exactly this reason.

When the stakes are so high, why is one person’s right to eat nuts valued more highly than another person’s right to breathe freely and live? Does it make sense to ban allergens from enclosed public spaces such as planes, trains, and subways? Where do you draw the line?

I try so hard not to let my fears of a reaction cloud my son’s experiences, but I think he picks up on it. He’s a lot like me, naturally a bit nervous at new experiences. So much of this food allergy life is new to us, even after six years. We’re working through it together.

I wish this child peace. After this harrowing experience, I hope his parents will consider bringing him to a therapist to talk through his feelings.

And for the rest of us, I hope there will be a sensitive food allergy solution to air travel someday soon. Until then, I’ll see you on the road!

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5 Comments to “Americans have the right to eat nuts”

  1. Tiffany Self

    This is great, Kate! We can meet up at a predetermined rest area :-). I do feel so badly for this kiddo, I think therapy is absolutely a must after his experience.

  2. Liz

    It’s a very scary, frustrating problem. We have flown with the kids several times and it only became an issue when AA switched our seats (despite having booked months in advance) to separate me from my then-3 and 6 year old children. I explained that my kids have life-threatening food allergies and if they forced us to sit separately, they were assuming the risk of possible exposure. They fixed the seat situation and everything was fine. That said, flying still terrifies me, along with many other aspects of food allergy parenting. I’m not defending the airline by any means but I think it’s important to understand that there are 2 sides to every story and the Daily Mail article only presented one side. From the article, it seems clear that the mom, in her efforts to compel an announcement, naturally stressed the “worst case scenario” outcome (as would we all). The mom’s passion may have created a double-edged sword for the airline. All they can do is make an announcement, or try to “ban” peanuts. Airlines aren’t going to screen their passengers’ purses or pat people down for a peanut-search as they board. If the mom was threatening the possible death of her child, the airline employee probably acted out of fear and decided to require medical clearance for liability purposes. Yes, of course the airline should have a policy in place and do a better job training its employees, and of course there is a legal duty to accommodate, but it’s much easier to pass judgment in hindsight. A mid-level airline employee was forced to make a snap decision — and on a Sunday, when it likely wasn’t possible to reach management/corporate for guidance. In this day and age, airlines would probably rather risk a PR nightmare for failing to accomodate than a multimillion dollar lawsuit for allowing the passenger to fly and risking his/her potential death from someone who ignores a peanut announcement or “ban.” Even the end of the article seemed to backtrack a bit – “I have a relative who is a doctor in America so he sent a letter saying there is no way Daniel could die on the flight.” But that’s likely exactly what the mom was threatening could happen, so the airline attendant probably did what she thought was best at the time, even if her judgment was poor. As an allergy-parent, I see both sides to the problem. Flights are more complicated than schools, where allergy policies are easier to enforce and there is less of a risk from circulated air/tight quarters, etc. Of course, I believe airlines should make announcements without question and should do the best they can to accommodate allergy families, but I do not think we will ever reach a point where flight attendants assume the role of allergy police.

    • Kate

      Thanks for commenting, Liz. You make some very good points. I agree that it likely was viewed as a liability issue. I just can’t get over how upset this child must have been.

  3. common sense

    Banning peanuts, really if you support banning peanuts from flights then we have to ban gluten berry’s shellfish latex and everything else anyone has an allergic reaction to I’m allergic to bees and sunflower seed penicillin and Bermuda grass should no one be allowed to have any of that . I get what there saying that for them it’s dangerous but to change other people’s lives to fit your unique situation is a slippery slope.

    If your kid flips out when someone opens a bag of peanuts in front of him you probably have leaned to far into the fear mechanism vs the informed mechanism I was tough what I could have and could not and to ask when i was not sure. If the kid can nit handle the situation then they are not ready for you to put them in the situation.

    • Kate Petrov

      Thanks for your comment, I agree, it would be difficult to ban one allergen and not another.

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