Initial Response of Airlines to AL Reduce-the-Risk Campaign
In January, 2009, Allergic Living magazine launched a write-in campaign to the chief executives of Canada’s two main airlines – Air Canada and WestJet. Over 1,100 individuals took part, personalizing Allergic Living’s form letter that urged the two airlines to develop clear, consistent policies on serious food allergies, including preventative accommodations.
At the end of February, the airlines gave their initial replies.
Robert Palmer, WestJet’s public relations manager, said from Calgary: “We’re in discussions here about the feasibility of the various suggestions [from the campaign]. I’m not going to tell you which way we’re leaning because it would be wrong to set expectations.”
There have been two meetings at which representatives of several WestJet departments were given tasks to research about allergy measures: from regulations to legalities to computer systems and communications issues.
Air Canada director of media relations, John Reber, replied that the airline was “carefully studying the proposals.”
He said: “A thorough evaluation of your proposal requires input from a number of experts representing different aspects of an airline’s safety, health, regulatory, operations and customer service areas.” He said it would take some time to get a detailed response. He gave no timeline, but Allergic Living will follow up with the airlines.
While customers can bring allergenic foods aboard their flights, neither airline serves peanuts, and WestJet also does not serve tree nuts or sesame products. Air Canada serves almonds in first-class, and other nuts on some flights.
The Allergic Living campaign letter suggested these significant allergy measures:
– A process at time of booking for the passenger to make the airline aware of a serious food allergy, and a means to confirm that with flight crews.
– With that notice, a p.a. announcement could be made in the departure area asking passengers to refrain from eating certain allergenic food or foods.
– With notice, a flight crew would not serve snacks or menu items made with the allergenic food in question.
– At the start of a flight, the crew could make another announcement asking passengers to refrain from eating the allergenic food(s).
“We take [the letters] seriously, we acknowledge that there’s certainly a desire on the part of sufferers with serious allergies to have some announcements made,” said Palmer. “The bottom line is: ‘Is that feasible?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, then we need to sit down and figure it out with you. But we’re not there yet. We’re still at the: ‘Is that feasible? Is that viable?’ stage.”
As Canadian airlines study accommodations, flying just got considerably less allergy-friendly on Northwest Airlines. For years, the carrier served pretzels. But in February, shortly after merging with Delta Air Lines, which is based in the peanut-producing state of Georgia, Northwest Airlines began handing out peanut packets again. It also announced that any meal or snack could now also contain peanut or tree nut traces. Many passengers flying with allergies protested the policy changes.