Air Canada Unveils Allergy Policy

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Published: December 2, 2010

In its new online policy, Air Canada is adamant that it “cannot offer a meal that is nut-/peanut-free”. Gwen Smith, Allergic Living’s editor, thinks the special meal decision is reasonable, noting that allergic persons need to bring their own food any way as the potential for accidental cross-contamination is too high.

Smith is glad to see a formal policy from Canada’s main airline – “the previous policy amounted to bring your meds and we can’t guarantee …”

But she is less convinced about the specifics, particularly how workable the buffer zone will be. She points out there are a number of hoops one has to go through: finding the Fitness for Travel (FFT) medical form on Air Canada’s site (it’s not obvious, find it here), getting it filled out by the doctor, booking with the airline by phone (rather than Internet), then faxing in the FFT to the airline’s medical section.

“I am concerned that the cumbersome nature of getting the buffer zone will lead to fewer passengers at risk of anaphylaxis asking for it. If that occurs, that won’t reduce risk.”

In January 2009, Allergic Living spearheaded a campaign in which 1,100 individuals wrote letters to the CEOs of both Air Canada and WestJet.

The letters asked for formal allergy policies, so that allergic passengers would find consistency when dealing with airline staff, and the campaign’s key recommendation was that the airline’s flight crew accommodate a nut- or peanut-allergic individual with a general p.a. announcement, in which fellow passengers would simply be asked to refrain from eating the nut or peanut products due to the presence of a passenger with serious allergies.

Air Canada made it clear in its conference call that it does not view this kind of announcement as necessary.

At the CTA hearings, Dr. Peter Vadas and Dr. Gordon Sussman were the two allergists who gave advice about the risks of peanut and nut allergies. They recommended an “exclusion zone” to reduce exposure risks, and Dr. Sussman in addition recommended a general announcement to inform passengers that an individual with nut or peanut allergies was on board. The CTA did not opt to include that recommendation.

“I am disheartened that neither Air Canada nor the CTA found it advisable to ask fellow passengers to simply refrain from eating such allergenic snacks for the few hours of most flights,” Smith said. “Those of us who lobbied the airlines are not asking for the allergy police or for guarantees about the snacking habits of other passengers. Just let them know when someone with a serious condition is onboard at 35,000 feet.

“When it’s a snack versus risk of anaphylaxis, most people don’t find this such a big hardship – we know this from airlines that make such announcements,” she said.

Coming Soon: Frequently Asked Questions about Air Canada’s Policy


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