Going Nuts? Taking on American Airlines Policy on Nut Allergies

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Susan Myers has spent many hours preparing for her family’s upcoming trip to Disney World – shopping for the best flight options on Travelocity, researching hotels, and planning activities.  And in the course of all planning, the well-being of her eight year-old son was at the forefront.

Her son faces life-threatening allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.

Warm nuts - served on thousands of daily American Airlines flights.

Warm nuts – served on thousands of daily American Airlines flights.

The Myers family never leaves home without epi pens and prophylactic antihistamines, and calculating daily risks is a part of normal planning.  As a regular course of action, the family researches the best ways to mitigate those risks – avoiding certain restaurants where the likelihood of nut contamination is higher than average and finding out about snack options in advance of situations where they do not control their own food.

And so it seemed like a routine call to American Airlines to be certain the airline would not be serving peanuts as a snack, much like she and her husband had done before flights on other carriers in the past.  Instead she was surprised to told by an agent that while peanuts are not served in coach, first-class passengers are served warmed nuts on board and that would not change based on a passenger request.

Hoping for clarification, Myers’ husband called the airline and was told the same thing – that there was no possibly of tree nuts not being on the flight.

Myers then took to Twitter

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American Airlines policy on nut allergies is published on AA.com:

American recognizes that some passengers are allergic to peanuts and other tree nuts. Although we do not serve peanuts, we do serve other nut products (such as warmed nuts) and there may be trace elements of unspecified nut ingredients,including peanut oils, in meals and snacks. We do not have in place procedures that allow our flight crews not to serve these foods upon request of a customer. We do not provide nut “buffer zones”. Our planes are cleaned regularly, but these cleanings are not designed to ensure the removal of nut allergens, nor are our air filtration systems designed to remove nut allergens. Additionally, other customers may bring peanuts or other tree nuts on board. Therefore, we cannot guarantee customers will not be exposed to peanuts or other tree nuts during flight, and we strongly encourage customers to take all necessary medical precautions to prepare for the possibility of exposure.

Myers believed the family might still be accommodated though through American’s special assistance policy:

Within our Reservations Department, an exclusive team called “Special Assistance Coordinators” facilitates your travel. Specially trained to arrange for the special needs of customers with disabilities and/or medical conditions, they document your reservation concerning your special service requests to alert our airport staff. In certain circumstances, if you have requested special assistance at the time of making your reservation, they will contact you by telephone prior to departure to ensure all advance medical paperwork requirements or special assistance requests are arranged. For this reason, it is helpful to have a valid, complete telephone number available within your reservation.

The Myers asked for some type of reasonable accommodation for their son and when refused, suggested a fee-free change to another airline with a more accommodating policy, since they booked their flights on Travelocity where there was no policy disclosure.  The other airlines they considered – Southwest, Delta, and United – all have published policies that range from “possible” accommodation to “definite” accommodation. 

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Susan Myers feels that it’s time for a change.  The family (via Myers’s brother-in-law Chris Yates) has launched the hashtag #AACutOffYourNuts with the hope of exposing what they feel is an archaic position on inflight snacks.  They believe the time has come for a change to American Airlines policy on nut allergies.

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They stand a good chance of catching viral attention with their catchy campaign, based on these statistics from the Food Allergy Institute:

  • According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.
  • Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department – that is more than 200,000 emergency department visits per year.
  • Teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at the highest risk of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis.
  • Peanut and tree nut allergies, which also tend to develop in childhood, usually are lifelong. In the U.S., approximately three million people report allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Studies show the number of children living with peanut allergy appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008.

What do you think readers?  Has the time come for airlines to change the tradition of serving nuts in flight?  Should American Airlines have a sound back-up plan to accommodate both concerned parents and first class passengers with an alternative snack?  Sound off in the comments below….


About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last eighteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Although she averages 200 days a year on the road, she loves to return to “the homestead” in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and cocktail mixology.

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Comments

  1. I’m with American on this. While the customer purchased her tickets via a 3rd party OTA, why should the company and other fliers be inconvenienced for one passenger because she didn’t bother to due her own due diligence before purchasing the tickets?

    The parents even state that they are always prepared with appropriate mitigation (ep-dipen, etc). If you kid has a reaction, give him a shot an move on.

    While Disney claims to cater to food allergy issues, the parent could have taken to Google to find many, many issues with this “service”
    http://www.allergyeats.com/blog/index.php/no-ones-perfect-not-even-disney-world/

    May just leave the kid at home and go somewhere fun for the Adults.

    • I don’t totally disagree with your first point, I am a mother of a class 6 (the most severe) 3 year old whom is allergic to peanuts and the times that we MUST fly I spend at least 3 hours on the phone confirming their policies. But I have more compassion for her plight than the airlines and their snacks, so I would side with her in a heartbeat.
      The point I would like to correct you on is ” If you kid has a reaction, give him a shot an move on.” That is not how epinephrine works, it’s not an ant-acid if your belly hurts, it allows my child’s throat to stay open (God willing) long enough to get antihistamines and steroids into him to stop the reaction from completely closing his airways. Then we have minutes to get to the hospital and have him intubated and put on a respirator. I cannot imagine a scarier place for my child to have an allergic reaction then 30,000 feet in the air.
      All we want to do is keep our child safe, we are not asking people to change the course of their lives, just not serve nuts in a place that is impossible for an emergency medical response. I know so many people think us allergy parents are “crazy” and we want the world to bend to our needs, but really we were just dealt a set of cards, a child with a disability that no one can see. Our daily lives are more complicated than most can imagine, and we want to have “normal” experiences (including Disney World) just like everyone else.
      Your last comment was just callus; our children miss out on so many experiences because we have to keep them home.

    • I know you can’t be serious Kevin!? If you were traveling and had a life threatening situation you would expect the company to ignore it? Really?

      We are not asking them to change one million flights but certain situations must be addressed.

      You bring up ONE individual? This is ONE child! What if that was you? Should we just ignore it? You wouldn’t want that.

      Thanks

    • It’s not that easy as just give the kid medication and move on. You can’t move on. The medication is something “temporary.” The child can’t remain in flight. The plane will HAVE TO land because the medication acts as only temporary and the CHILD will have to be transported to the hospital for observation. He/she can go back into ANAPHYLATIC shock. How INSENSITIVE. It shouldn’t be always about the dollar for corporations. That’s what’s wrong with this world!!

  2. 3 million people may be allergic to nuts, but I’d assume (the links don’t say) that the vast majority of those aren’t so severe to react just from nut dust in the air. And as noted, even if the airline stops serving them, other customers may bring their own on board.

    A refund or re-accommodation to another airline seems reasonable in this specific case. Or just keep to flights under 1150 miles, when starting Monday AA will no longer be serving the nuts for merger service alignment!

  3. Only in America does all of society and private corporations need to change to accommodate the personal needs of one individual. We are on a high-speed train to anarchy. Life is full of choices – fly on another airline that accommodates your needs.

  4. The comment to “give him a shot & move on” is one of the most insensitive things I’ve ever heard. Despite epi-pen shots, kids with severe allergies can still die from nut dust exposure, especially on an airplane hours away from medical help.

    It’s not like they need to change for every single flight, just be willing to make reasonable accommodations for severe allergies that can react to dust in the {recirculated} air. I’ve been on many flights where they have announced a severe allergy on board & asked for passenger cooperation. Everyone has been most willing to help keep a kid from dying.

  5. American is right. They don’t control who brings what food on the plane so what does it matter if they have nuts. The parents should bring their own food for their child. If that isn’t enough, they should drive.

  6. I am the mom in this article. A mom who has flown with my son numerous times with no problems. I would love to clarify a few things for some of the people on here who might not understand nut allergies. The difference in a nut allergy and almost any other allergy is the dust nuts create and the small amount of allergen that is needed to cause a reaction. People think it is just a consume or touch allergy, but it is not. It is also not a choice or a dislike. It is a life threatening condition.

     To put it into more perspective, I am sensitive to corn and gluten, but it will not kill me to be around. I’m also allergic to pets, and would be miserable sitting next to one, but it would not kill me.

    A physician friend with a child with nut allergies posted this:

    “Each person with food allergies has a threshold at which the reaction occurs. Some people can eat a nut or two before reacting, others only require a small amount of dust from the nuts circulating in the air (so not the odor, but small particles of the allergen). People who can get sick from inhaling the dust have “airborne allergies,” while those who can become sick from touching the allergen have “contact allergies” and the rest require ingesting the allergen. Even people who require a higher threshold to react can become life-threateningly ill once the reaction starts as the amount of allergen required to trigger the reaction does not correlate to what the reaction will actually be. But an enclosed airplane with recirculated air miles above medical help is a terrifying place to be for a person with food allergies (and his mama).”

    So why don’t we fly with someone else?

    Honestly, we have flown with AA many times in the past and never had problems. So when their flight was cheapest on Travelocity I thought nothing about booking with them. I grew up in FW so it is always nice to support a hometown organization!

    It was only after our calls to the airline that we realized our mistake. And just how much AA has changed over the years.

    If we cancel out flights, we will lose up to $800 of the almost $1000 we spent. And then either drive the almost 20 hours to our destination, or pay for more tickets on another airline. We aren’t poor, but neither do we have that kind of extra money just lying around.  And if we book flights now the cost will be exorbitant.

    Daily we take risks when we leave the safety of our home. But they are calculated risks. And we do take Epis with us. And Benadryl. And sometimes our own ER doc (brother in law), but once a reaction starts it can be hard or impossible to stop.

    I’m not asking for AA to stop serving nuts on all flights, although in this day and age it would be prudent. I kindly ask them to follow the courageous lead of other airlines who have put the safety of ALL passengers in front of the comfort of a few.

    I appreciate those of you who have read this with compassion, and who are willing to go read stories of those who have been affected by this. As one person said to me, this is a first world problem. And I agree. And as a first world country I love that we can be unselfishly giving and supportive to the least of us.

    As I told my son this morning, sometimes it isn’t about what is legal or not legal. Or about whether a policy can be in place or not. It is about doing the right thing. Should AA HAVE to change their policy? Maybe, maybe not. One day I hope the courts decide yes. But in the meantime, policies only change when we stand up and give a voice to what needs changing. And AA’s policy on serving nuts (and how they interact with passengers with nut allergies) needs to change.

    • I have to agree with Susan in this case, being a 42 year old adult that still to this day has severe peanut allergies. I can actually sense with peanuts are within 50 feet of me and begin to get nauseous. Lets all remember that American Airlines, like many other companies is a service industry. Customer Service is what is lacking in this country these days. No one really cares any more.

      Many have asked why Susan does not just pick another airline. Not having all policies up front is a major concern, but also would anyone have thought American Airlines to be so non-caring and have such poor customer service. So my question back to AA is – fine, don’t remove the nuts. What are your onboard medical procedures in the event that something does happen? Since nuts are only served in first class, how hard is it really to switch them out for pretzels (or another snack). Southwest Airlines – king of the nuts has a very positive policy which I have used several times. They will remove the nuts and allow you to preboard so that you can sit in the front of the plane (since cabin air moves front to back). They will even clean the seat you want if you ask. All of this with really no notification until you check in with the gate agent. If they can do this during a turn around, AA should be able to as well.

  7. Sorry, I don’t think airlines should have to create a tree nut free environment for one passenger. This is one person who is yelling loudly and making a scene. What is this mom going to do in WDW? Is she going to walk in the park and demand that the park be nut free the whole time her family is visiting. Even if AA made it a nut free flight there is no guarantee that I won’t be seated next to them munching on the peanut butter crackers that I always have stashed in my computer bag. Sure the other airline have a policy of not serving nuts if someone makes a request, but again the airlines can’t stop passengers from bringing and consuming it onboard. If the OP changed to SWA I wouldn’t be surprised if a family trying to save a few bucks didn’t pack PB&J sandwiches since they know they will be spending big $$$ in the coming week in the House of the Mouse.

    If it is that much of a problem and they are so concerned then board the plane early, wipe down the seats for your family, have your kid wear long pants and a shirt with a mask, but dont impose on 200 other people.

  8. I used not to be super-sympathetic to nut allergy sufferers, but then I had kids. And some of my kids’ friends and classmates have very severe peanut allergies. I get it now. This is the one allergy where the actions of others really can harm the allergy sufferer. It isn’t like other allergies. It is really easy in places like schools to go nut-free – our preschool did it and we weren’t inconvenienced at all. It it totally within American Airline’s rights to take the position they are taking, but I don’t think it is smart or good publicity. Frankly, I don’t see why airlines are taking this risk in this day and age. Just serve some pretzels. They are probably cheaper anyway.

  9. The lack of empathy in this world is absolutely astounding. And heartbreaking.

    Also, what intelligent adult can’t understand recirculated air?

  10. If they made a tree nut free flight and then someone did pop open a pack of peanuts the allergy sufferer would be in line to sue AA for promising something and not delivering. AA has made their policy clear and if it doesn’t meet your needs then you are free to use another carrier.

  11. All air lines really need to do is have some allergy friendly planes they could be plastered with a no nuts logo and advertised as such when booking those planes. Everyone that bought tickets would have the logo on their tickets and know ahead that they would be on an allergy friendly flight. That plane could use the amazing top 8-10 allergy free snacks like Enjoy Life Products. Really it is not hard to find the compromise that would be intelligent and give all what they need (allergy suffers) and what they just want (business class nuts).

    • You can’t be serious? How would they assign which routes get those planes. It isn’t a scenario where people with nut allergies only fly to MCO. What if little Johnny lives in MSP buts wants to visit grandman in NYC. Is AA supposed to reposition a plane just for little Johnny?

  12. For those who are wondering, believe it or not Walt Disney World is VERY accommodating to those wih food allergies. We know several people who have gone this summer who have severe allergies and they say the kiddos were treated like royalty. They got to meet chefs and special efforts were made to keep them safe. A wonderful example of how these kiddos can be helped by an organization. Bravo WDW!

  13. Compassion. Simple compassion. I realize that deviations can set precedents and those can snowball. However, someone not getting their warm nuts will not create a bad customer experience for them and is an extremely easy fix/adjustments for that one flight. I would never have been as sensitive to those with nut allergies as I am now–I have a 3.5 year old who I saw with my very own eyes stop breathing due to nuts. That will change your perspective in a heartbeat. While I can never expect others to not bring nuts on the plane, to a park (that was just plain dumb), this one “tweak” would take down the chance of her child having a reaction considerably. While my family realizes we can’t control everything in regards to our child’s allergies and we certainly don’t live in a bubble, we do our best to protect our children and to be pro-active — and this is no different. It’s not a simple fix for someone with severe allergies to just have an epi-pen — so she is trying to decrease the odds of a reaction. It’s smart and all of you would do the same if you were in her boat. I am very seasoned traveler, and I’ve seen accommodations made for others and their special needs all across the globe. I’m appalled and embarrassed that my preferred airline lacks such customer service and empathy. Looks like they should be on the hunt for a few new people in their marketing department and looks like I will be on the hunt for a new airline.

  14. So all of you who think it’s outrageous to make accommodations for a single passenger: if you were on a flight and someone had a heart attack or other medical emergency, would you really be OK letting them die on the plane rather than make an emergency landing? Probably not. That seems like a much more inconvenient scenario than being seved a different snack. I am appalled at the lack of compassion for a child with a life threatening allergy.

  15. Taking in this conversation and comments I empathize with the parent. We are talking about one flight to make accommodations for. Not to discount American Airlines because I flew with them and my child developed an allergy to the detergent they use on their blankets (something I didn’t know at the time) and the flight attendants and medical personnel that happened to be on board did a great job helping me. Peanut allergies are no joke, but I see an airline blatantly stating that their first class passengers needs and desires far outweigh everyone else – regardless of health. They may not be stating the obvious but if they removed warm nuts I know a bunch of AAdvantage Platinum members that would also take to Twitter and raise a stink about it (possibly) or complaints about why the nuts are gone. I say get rid of the nuts and serve something else – healthy options would be a great start.

  16. Like another commenter said, I didn’t get the gravity of this situation until I became the parent of a child with severe nut allergies. It’s not an issue of convenience or preference. It is only an issue of life and death. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of witnessing a child experiencing anaphylaxis would make it a mission to never go through that hellish ordeal again. It’s a shame AA would not simply refund your money. Looks like this family will be avoiding AA right along with nuts.

  17. @Melissa, The airlines do in fact have policies and procedures to deal with in flight emergencies including heart attacks, with trained FA’s, onboard AED’s and the ability to make an medical emergency landing if required. No one here is saying “Let someone having a medical emergency die instead of landing the plane”.

    While several posters are making outrageous suggestions like “Airlines should have several allergy free planes on standby for immediate dispatch to some allergy sufferers departure airport” and “just serve peanuts to those evil American 1%er’s up in the front, even though the currently served warm nuts contain no actual peanuts”, “American and 300 other passengers should be inconvenienced because I demand a peanut free flight, I just paid $129 for these tickets to MCO!”

    The point is that if parents or adult allergy sufferers are so absolutely worried about coming in contact with peanuts or someone dropping dead from breathing recirculated 737 air (seriously?), don’t you think a better solution would probably be for the concerned family to drive their peanut free vehicle or fly private, you can even collect Delta SkyMiles flying NetJets!

  18. Sorry but I think airlines have their published policies and customers need to read them. I know how dangerous allergies can be – but customers need to navigate the world of allergies on their own in other environments too (that are often beyond their immediate control). Why blaming the airline?

  19. I am pretty tough, I can handle many things…but someone as callous as the first poster
    “kevin” deserves a response. I have the most amazing, courageous, wonderful, 9 year old daughter. She cares for others and is always concerned about people being treated fairly. I can promise you she would GLADLY give up any food item for a small time that she would be on a plane in order to keep someone safe. She has had to miss out on sleepovers, birthday parties, cruises, airline trips, train excursions, camp outs and many other of the cool things kids get to do because of her VERY severe life threatening food allergies. We have spent time trying desperately to get the hospital in time for her to be treated AFTER giving the shot that he so callously said “give and move on” about. She is a wonderful human being who unfortunately has a disability that effects her every day existence. Kevin, give thanks to God that YOU don’t have this and then consider being more caring about your fellow human being next time. I know what a big sacrifice giving up your peanuts for a 2 hour flight must be.

  20. I could cry at the lack of compassion people have towards one another. Obviously people making such comments do not have a loved one in their life with a peanut allergy. And very sad that American Airlines still has not changed their policy.

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