Updated March 17, 2016: As Allergic Living reported was set to happen in mid-February, British Airways has now officially become the first major international airline to offer in-flight announcements requesting that passengers do not eat peanuts or tree nuts when sitting near a customer with either of those allergies.
As well, the information added in March 2016 to the BA website says that, when informed, the “cabin crew will also suspend the serving of loose nut snacks in your cabin of travel.” Details of the new allergy policy can be found on the BA.com website.
British Airways’ former accommodations included not serving peanuts as snacks or in meals. “We are updating our policy and, as an additional measure, our crews will also make an announcement on board to inform customers, and to ask those in the vicinity to refrain from eating nut products,” Michele Kropf, a New York-based spokesperson for the airline, confirmed to Allergic Living.
“The British Airways PA announcements are a big win for the food allergy community,” said Gwen Smith, Allergic Living’s editor. She notes the magazine has long advocated for such announcements, as a risk-reducing precaution for passengers with peanut and nut allergies, who are thousands of miles from medical assistance when traveling by air.
“I can only hope that large American carriers will emulate this policy as well,” said Lianne Mandelbaum, the founder of NoNutTraveler.com, who has amassed more than 78,000 signatures on a petition that calls for a “Bill of Rights for Allergic Passengers”.
Mandelbaum says the British Airways response “to the growing public health concern of food allergies should reduce the risk of an in-flight reaction and the emergency situations that would follow.”
British Airways is one of the world’s largest international airlines, serving about 40 million passengers a year in 78 countries. Delta Airlines – which serves over 105 million passengers domestically and 24 million internationally – was the first major carrier to create a policy for a PA announcement for peanut allergy. In Delta’s case, the announcement is that the sale of peanut products will be suspended for a flight because of the presence of an allergic person, but refraining from eating peanuts near an allergic person is not mentioned. (Delta’s crews can set up a buffer zone in which no peanuts are eaten, but that is discretionary as opposed to policy.)
On her site, Mandelbaum has reported on incidents of families being kicked off other big carriers’ flights for asking for an announcement of their food allergy or being mocked by flight attendants. She and Smith agree that airlines need to appreciate that such measures are prudent to significantly reduce the risk of allergen exposures, as a food-allergic reaction can within minutes turn severe or even fatal, and an airplane may be 35,000 feet in the air.
There’s also a business side to accommodations. “Airlines also need to understand that the food allergy epidemic is growing, and that nut-allergic passengers will choose to fly an airline that treats their food allergy with dignity and respect,” says Mandelbaum.
As shown in Allergic Living’s “Comparing Airlines” chart of carriers’ allergy policies, some medium-sized airlines will make allergy PA announcements as well. The Canadian airline WestJet and Virgin-America will inform a plane’s passengers to refrain from opening either peanut or nut snacks when an allergic traveler requests this accommodation. The airline JetBlue won’t make a plane-wide announcement, but will ask passengers to refrain from eating peanuts or nuts in a “buffer zone” created around a traveler with allergies.
• Support the U.S. Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act of 2015 here.