Tremblay’s response: “If a customer has an allergy that is not severe and does not feel the zone is required, he/she is not obligated to sign up for this service. The buffer zone policy was definitely not set up to alienate those who choose not to use it … it was set up to help those who do.”
But then he notes: “… Now that we have a buffer zone policy, we have asked the crew to follow our new policy rather than entertain miscellaneous requests – we feel this ensures everyone is treated in a safe and consistent manner.”
“Safe and consistent.” That sounds good except of course the new “consistent” policy precludes ad hoc announcement requests. So my son is afforded less protection than he used to get.
While Tremblay says communicating this new policy to thousands of employees is no easy task, a real doozy comes in his concluding paragraph. “While I trust the purpose of your article is to inform readers with peanut allergies on how to travel safely,” he writes, “it is unfortunate that the actions of one of our 24,000 employees has painted Air Canada in a bad light.”
My family came within a hair’s breadth of being ignominiously tossed off a flight for one reason: my son’s peanut allergy. And this Air Canada excuses as the act of one employee? “It’s 2011. We’re in America. Do you hear what you’re saying to me?”
I am a big advocate for policy that protects and responds to the very real concerns of allergic flyers, but I know I’m not the only allergy parent who thinks the buffer zone concept fails to achieve that. At best, it is a bare-minimum measure that has anaphylactic travelers jumping through a tangled mess of red tape only to enjoy a false sense of security in a big metal tube 35,000 feet in the air.
For allergy families, it has diminished our access to significantly better accommodations, albeit at the whim of the flight crew. And as per my most recent encounter, instead of ensuring “everyone is treated in a safe and consistent manner,” it confounds the frontline staff and makes allergy moms cry in public.
“I’m just going to walk away,” I finally say to the employee-of-the-month behind the desk at the gate, not knowing whether she’ll stop me. I don’t look back.
I join Honey and the kids who are now a few rows away in the waiting area. I’m still shaking. The pre-boarding announcement is made. I have my iPhone gripped, ready to capture the dreaded moment when we’re turned away, despite the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rule of “non-discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel” (not to mention the CTA’s declaration that peanut and tree nut allergies are “disability” in the context of air travel).
We wait until the line thins out before heading over, and then I hear it. “Excuse me, ma’am,” she calls over. “Ms. Yaffe?”
I look up in dread – iPhone recording, fingernails dug into Honey’s arm. “I spoke to the flight crew and they’re going to make an announcement for you. Just let them know who you are when you board the plane. But for the future,” she adds, “make sure you get that medical clearance.”