US v. Canadian airlines – why aren’t they all food allergy-friendly?

[Thank you to Adrienne Walkowiak as the primary author of this post]

                                                           

Are the friendly skies getting more food-allergy friendly?  It depends where you’re traveling.  Canada’s two major airlines, WestJet and Air Canada Airlines, recently unveiled exciting, progressive new food allergy policies, which many in our community hope will become precedent among US airlines, as well.

WestJet, to my knowledge, is now the first airline to carry adult and child-sized EpiPen auto-injectors on their entire fleet of planes, which is a huge victory for food-allergic travelers.  In the event of an allergic reaction on board, these EpiPens will, literally, be lifesavers.

Why aren’t any of the US airlines doing the same?

It’s standard operating procedure to have defibrillators on all US airplanes as lifesaving devices.  Now, we need airline executives to recognize the significant benefits to stocking their fleets with EpiPens for the same reason.  Need I mention that EpiPens take up much less space and are much easier to operate than a defibrillator?

The Canadian airlines are implementing other allergy-friendly protocols, including creating nut-free “buffer zones” around nut and peanut allergic passengers and serving nut-free alternatives to the stereotypical bags of peanuts on flights.  Additionally, the crew now makes announcements to alert fellow passengers to food-allergic travelers on board, asking individuals to refrain from opening products that contain nuts/peanuts while on that flight.

The efforts of these two Canadian airlines represent significant progress, and it’s disheartening to see that US airlines have not implemented similar food-allergy policies or protocols en masse, despite the fact that millions of people have known food allergies in this country.

In fact, US food allergy “policies” differ greatly among the various carriers.  Some US airlines offer “buffer zones” around a food-allergic passenger with advanced notice; some will serve a non-peanut snack on a particular flight with advanced notice, and some airlines have stopped serving peanuts altogether.  Further, some US airlines offer gluten-free and vegan (dairy and egg-free) menu options.   But which carrier is doing what?  Is it enough?  And where are the EpiPens?!!

Of course, no airline in the US or Canada will guarantee a flight that’s completely free of food allergy triggers, partly because they can’t control the snacks and meals that other passengers bring on board, but knowing that travelers may be exposed to allergy-triggers on a flight, US airlines should seriously consider implementing some of the tactics that the Canadian airlines have wisely incorporated.

I strongly believe that US-based airlines should implement more stringent food-allergy policies on their flights.  They should carry EpiPens.  They should all eliminate peanuts and nuts from their snacks and meals, and make available snacks and meals free of common food-allergy triggers, such as nuts, peanuts, dairy and gluten.

Many travelers have heart conditions, and our nation’s airlines strive to keep them safe with defibrillators. Now, knowing how many people have food allergies – which can also be serious and life-threatening – shouldn’t they step up their protocols to keep this population safe as well?

I’m curious to hear about your experiences on various airlines.  Have you found a particular airline to be especially accommodating?  Are there airlines that you avoid because they weren’t allergy friendly?  Please click on Comment or Reply below to share your thoughts.

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Comments

    Author:
    JoyceL
    Written:


    That is great news! Go Canada! Hopefully the USA will follow.
    In our experience, we have had a terrible time with reservations (even when we talked with a manager) but the flight attendents were able to help us. United airlines reservations said they could not guarantee that our 3 year old with peanut/egg allergies could sit next to a parent! They did not see a food allergy as an important enough reason. We missed a connection due to weather and had a HORRIBLE experience with reservations. However, the flight attendents were more aware of food allergies and made arrangements for us to sit with our son (we got on the plane in hopes of that… otherwise we would have gotten right back off! We figured it was a safe bet that somebody wouldn’t want to babysit someone’s 3 year old, even if he did not have food allergies! 🙂 ) Other than that, our flights have been fine. We wipe everything down, we bring him safe snacks, and we bring our meds. On one trip our flight attendent offered to ask the whole plane to refrain from eating any nuts… that surprised me.
    In general, I think Canada is ahead of the US. They actually have a nut free line that produces ice cream! (I do not know of ine in the US – they all rely on cleaning the lines as far as I know) We also order our granola bars from Canada – they have a nut free facility for the same brand that we cannot buy in the US. After looking into manufacturers, I think there is much more awareness and concern by manufacturers in Canada.

    Author:
    Carly
    Written:


    I am allergic to all nuts. I am SEVERELY allergic to peanuts when they are airborne. Recently we flew Delta because I found a really great deal on our flights. I wear an N-95 mask to ensure I won’t have a reaction in places I know I could be exposed to peanuts. We had layovers, and all 4 of the planes we were on were COVERED in peanut dust. Although they did not serve peanuts on my flight, I had reactions through my mask because there was so much peanut dust. I have since decided it is better to pay more money to fly on a plane that doesn’t offer peanuts as a snack (Delta, Southwest, etc.)in order to ensure my safety. Although I know other passengers will probably bring snacks containing nuts on board and will still have to wear a mask, I know that flying on an airline that won’t be covered in peanut dust is the only way I can travel.

    Author:
    Tom Golota
    Written:


    My recent experience with Delta on an International flight was not very positive. Yes, they did offer gluten-free and vegan meals, but they still serve peanuts. We informed them well in advance, that we had peanut allergies. They told us they would create “buffer zones of 3 rows in front and three in back of us. When it came time for a snack, the people directly in front of us, to the side of us and behind us all received peanuts. When I asked the fight attendant about the buffer zone, she snapped “I have been in Business Class the whole time – I don’t know anything about it”!!! So much for being assured a “buffer Zone”. Don’t believe them!

    Author:
    Carla
    Written:


    We recently had a HORRIBLE experience with Virgin America Airlines. The Customer Service representatives were unprofessional and inconsiderate when dealing with our situation. My 4 year old has potentially life threatening food allergies to all nuts (peanuts, tree nuts, cashews & pistachios) as well as sesame. We have vowed to never fly Virgin America due to their unwillingness to be understanding when dealing with a food allergic flier.
    I was even told by the Customer Service Representative that Virgin America could not inconvience its non allergic passengers by making a nut free buffer around our child. I responded by saying that if (God forbid) my daughter went into anaphylactic shock while in the air and we needed to make an emergency landing… wouldn’t that be a bigger inconvience?
    We are looking into more understanding, compassionate airlines for our next trip. United? I don’t want to have to move to Canada… but I like the changes they are making!

    Author:
    Renee
    Written:


    After hearing about Air Canada’s new allergy policy, I had my peanut allergic daughter’s allergist complete a medical form for Air Canada and faxed it just in time for our family trip to Mexico. The stewardesses were very accomodating and did notify the people in front, side and in back of my daughter’s seat. However, my daughter did not sit with the rest of the family, but several rows behind. Fortunately, she is 20 years old so it was not that big a deal for her, whereas it would have been for a younger child. I noticed on both trips to and from Mexico that they seated my daughter where there were less or no seats in front (ie it was the bathroom on the middle of the plane); less people to ask not to have peanuts I guess.Whatever the case may be, you need to remind the stewardesses and not expect them to be told from their supervisors, because the people in the “buffer zone” were only told on the trip going to Mexico, but not during our return trip, until I said something on the plane. In the past I have asked Air Transat stewardesses to make an announcement about her allergy on the plane, and they have done it many times. I found out about this new policy from the Allergic Living Magazine which is an aamzing magazine filled with lots of current news, products, recipes and great information. FYI-There is a lot of Canadian letter writing to government for food label laws and advocacy from the AAIA (which is like your FAAN organization). O Canada !

    Author:
    Ann
    Written:


    We have only flown once with our kids who have multiple life-threatening food allergies. I did quite a bit of calling around ahead of time and finally booked a flight with American Airlines. One of our children is airborne to not only nuts but also dairy and eggs. The Customer Service Rep suggested that we bring extra cash on the flight and extra snacks so that we could purchase and discard of the allergens that other fliers brought on the plane. We also brought along face masks, 8 epi-pens, a portable nebulizer and lots of benedryl. Thankfully we flew each way without incident! The airline served pretzels that were actually safe for my kids and we did not see anything else being eaten or served while on the plane. We were given bulk head seating so that we would only have people behind us and a barrier between us and first class. They told us that they would thoroughly clean the plane and suggested that we fly early in the day when the plane is at it’s cleanest. On the way home, we had our newly trained allergy alert dog. He did not detect any allergens where we were sitting. He did find lots in the airports though. The most uncooperative airline was definitely Southwest. There is no way we would ever fly Southwest.

    Author:
    MR
    Written:


    We have a 7yo who is anaphylactic to peanuts, nuts and seafood. We travel 6-8x a year so we’ve mastered the art of peanut/nut-free traveling. In the beginning we used to inform reservation but realized very quickly that the message is not passed on to the flight attendants so to save the time/effort, we tell the flight attendants as soon as we board. I also bring a small canister of Lysol and disinfect our area (the airlines won’t clean so I will!). We pack our own snacks and also have a medical letter indicating that we are to carry our own food for medical reasons–during all the security hype, airport security (both in Canada & US) have asked us to dump out all the food so we figured we should carry a medical letter when we travel. We also carry our own Epi-Pens (4 to be exact). Each dose gives you 20mins-it will take them longer than 20mins to land, taxi and get an ambulance…one dose is not enough! We travel mostly Air Canada (their partner United)…they’ve been accommodating as much as they can be. We are Canadian and in our travels, I’ve realized how lucky we are to live in Canada. Nut-free Chapmans ice cream is readily available in most grocery stores which is gold for my son! Many allergy-free bakeries in Toronto so we can actually grab a coffee and our kids can have treats too. When we travel to the US-many times I’ve explained our situation and restaurants weren’t allergy aware as I would expect them to be. A recent law was just passed that changes food-labeling in Canada that requires the top 11 allergens are labeled on food and beverage. Scientific names such as albumin(egg) and caseinate (milk) or vague terms like “natural flavours” for soy and “spices” for sesame will no longer be allowed. We’ve come a long way but the road is still long to travel.

    Author:
    EO
    Written:


    Frontier Airlines almost kicked me off the plane when I told them of my allergy and they were serving nuts to the passenger. Attendants exact response, “You’re lucky we’ve pulled away from the gate because if we knew you were that sensitive we wouldn’t have let you on the plane.”

    Nice. Airtran and Southwest have been the most accommodating, in my experience.

    Author:
    JD
    Written:


    I have travelled with my peanut allergic 5 year old on both Canadian and US airlines. Both US airlines (United and US Air) did absolutely nothing. One attendant who had been on the job for years even told me she had never even been told about a passenger having an allergy and didn’t seem to see the point. Thankfully, nothing happened (they don’t serve peanuts and I cleaned the seats, tray tables, washed my child’s hands compulsively). On WestJet, however, they went out of their way to accomodate us. They made multiple announcements pre-flight and during flight. They made sure to have a three row buffer zone in front and back of my child’s seat. On a particular WJ flight, I just had to laugh, because the flight attendant was overdoing it. Anytime someone opened a snack they had taken on board, the attendant would run to me and ask if it was safe before letting the passenger eat. It became funny, but I felt so safe, it was incredible! I wish all airlines had attendants like this guy. He was the best!

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