The Canadian airline WestJet has announced that it is not currently carrying epinephrine auto-injectors in its medical kits, as it has done since 2010.
Instead the airline, which has gained a reputation as a leader in food allergy accommodations, has reverted to carrying epinephrine in a vial on its more than 140 aircraft, and is reviewing the company’s five-year-old policy of carrying auto-injectors.
The company’s website notes: “WestJet has had EpiPen auto-injectors on board its aircraft from 2010 until the end of October 2015.” Asked to clarify whether the devices, which have a medication lifespan of slightly more than a year, would be reinstated on flights, Robert Palmer, the senior spokesman for the airline, emailed the following statement:
“We haven’t changed our policy. Prior to renewing our contract, it makes sense for us to review this approach, as we do with other programs from time to time. This process is now underway and it is our intention to complete this review as quickly as possible.”
WestJet has been at the forefront in allergy accommodations. It has long offered buffer zones in which fellow passengers will be asked not to eat nuts and peanuts, and its crew will make announcements on behalf when asking other passengers to refrain from eating such foods when an allergic customer requests this, and it has carried stock EpiPen auto-injectors. In addition, WestJet doesn’t sell or provide peanut or nut products on board its flights.
WestJet notes on its website that other than the stock auto-injector change, the other policies remain in place for food allergic passengers.
Palmer noted in his email to Allergic Living that live-saving medication will still be available on board in the more common medical kit form of vial and syringe for use by a qualified health professional “or by a flight attendant under the real-time supervision of MedLink’s medical personnel.” In the case of any medical emergency, WestJet advises that it contacts MedLink before proceeding with treatment or administering medication.
But food allergy advocates are expressing concern about the review and the future of the availability of auto-injectors aboard WestJet. They note that WestJet’s move also comes at a time of lobbying for stock auto-injectors on all U.S. flights. They also stress the need for prompt action in an anaphylactic emergency, especially at 35,000 feet.
“It concerns me that in the course of an in-flight medical emergency, a flight attendant would have to contact MedLink and get instructions on what to do, when valuable time can be lost,” said Debbie Bruce, director of the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative. Bruce, who has worked with the Canadian government since 2010 to draft guidelines and proposed airline legislation around food allergies, still hopes that WestJet gets the auto-injectors back on board, and notes that new laws aren’t necessarily the only or best way to respond to setbacks.
In the U.S., a proposed bill, the Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act of 2015, currently before Congress, would require all airlines to carry epinephrine auto-injectors on every flight, and would make in-flight staff training on how and when to use the medication mandatory.
“My biggest concern is that people associate WestJet with taking food allergy seriously, and they know WestJet carries EpiPens on board, because they’ve advertised that in the past,” said Lianne Mandelbaum, founder of Nonuttraveler.com and a key proponent for the U.S. legislation and food allergic passengers’ rights.
“The reason that we’re seeking legislation in the first place in the States is because with the vials [of epinephrine], valuable seconds can be wasted when a passenger’s condition is deteriorating.”
Mandelbaum added in an email: “WestJet has been the gold standard in the industry as far as their policies for the food allergic passenger” and that it’s her hope that “both public safety and allergic passenger interests will prevail” with stock auto-injectors back on the carriers flights soon.
Allergic Living reminds readers that allergists recommend those with severe allergies always carry their own auto-injectors in case of an emergency. Stock epinephrine, whether at school or on an airline or in public venues, is meant as an additional safety measure or to help those experiencing a first-time reaction.
• Allergist Calls for Auto-Injectors on Flights after Saving Girl’s Life
• Support the U.S. Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act of 2015 here.
• Consult our Comparing Airlines chart to see the allergy policies of carriers side by side.