A senior representative of FARE, the food allergy organization, and an independent food allergy advocate had the unprecedented opportunity to make the case directly to the top U.S. airlines for clear guidelines for accommodating air travelers with food allergies.
“I am really encouraged by this,” George Dahlman, FARE’s vice president of advocacy and government relations, said of the January 28 presentation in Washington before a working group of the Airlines for America (A4A) industry association.
“This is an important opening, and we just have to keep at these discussions and see what we can establish with the airlines,” he said.
Dahlman and Amy Wicker, an advocate who founded the website Allergysafetravel.com, spoke before about 30 airline representatives and lawyers who manage accessibility and compliance issues. The two are pleased that the topic of flying with food allergies was included as part of a bigger meeting on accessibility issues.
Dahlman presented first, explaining the impact of food allergies on individuals and their families, and FARE’s role to give voice to this fast-growing community. “I told them that the biggest concern we (FARE) hear on a regular basis is that there is no consistency, no clarity and there’s a lack of transparency about what a consumer with a food allergy can expect when they go on an airline.”
He explained the need for guidelines, detailed accommodations that could be considered, and encouraged the airlines to appreciate as well the potential economic benefits. “The airline that really decides to step up to the plate on this will reap a tremendous benefit because of the sense of loyalty and commitment that the food allergy community has,” Dahlman told Allergic Living.
In her presentation, Amy Wicker wanted the airline officials, who represented the major domestic and international airlines, to understand the sense of unease that many food allergy families experience when flying. She said that in her experience, “the policy can say one thing, and the execution on the plane is something else.”
Wicker related a recent experience: last November, her 9-year-old daughter with a severe nut allergy suffered respiratory symptoms while getting off a flight on which cashews were being served. “I said this isn’t just our story” – and then Wicker, who is a TV producer, showed a short documentary she prepared that chronicles difficulties that several famiies have encountered flying with food allergies.
She focused on a positive approach – “I said there are solutions here, we just have to work together to find them.” The advocates both say the officials seemed most interested in the presentations, but it was difficult to get a read on just how receptive the airline representatives were to the ideas presented.
“I think they did come away with a whole new appreciation of what food allergy families have to go through when they fly – the uncertainty and the fears,” says Wicker. “So I am really hopeful that things can start to change.”