Poor Bethenny Frankel. When the “wealthiest homeless woman in Manhattan” isn’t pretending to be lost at sea, she’s battling a life-threatening fish allergy…without an EpiPen. Everyone’s favorite acerbic-tongued Housewife made the news again recently, when her plane was diverted after the crew ignored her life-threatening allergy and served fish onboard (she didn’t disclose which airline she was flying on). The plane had to be diverted because the crew “couldn’t not serve it.” When I read this, my first thought was, “What?!?!? They can do that? Also, doesn’t this woman own an EpiPen?”
Called airline mult x to say I have fish allergy. Got on & they’re serving bass. They couldn’t not serve it they said. Then they were turning around which I protested bc it would delay people. Cabin asked to not serve it & pilot made announcement to plane. That was fun. #epilife
— Bethenny Frankel (@Bethenny) January 3, 2019
What I learned was that an EPI pen only alleviates allergic reactions for 20 minutes. So jabbing yourself in the leg multiple times during a transcontinental flight is not a viable option. I also learned that some folks who suffer from fish allergies are sensitive to the smell of fish being cooked. So even being in the vicinity of fish can cause a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. With that in mind, it sounds like the pilot did the right thing by diverting the plane.
This story brought up a few important issues related to airlines and their responsibilities to passengers with allergies. After all, peanut allergies are quite common and yet airlines insist on serving them onboard. Jonathan Ross Lee once made a quip about how faking a peanut allergy got him an upgrade to first class. Passengers with allergies are responsible for notifying the airlines ahead of time. In Tricia Powell’s case, the airline promised not to serve nuts on her flight to accommodate her allergy…then proceeded to serve it anyway, nearly killing her.
What are passenger’s rights exactly, as they pertain to allergies? There are none. Airlines do have policies to protect passengers suffering from severe allergies. Some of them are less than accommodating. All of them pretty much encourage passengers to consult with their doctors about whether it is safe for them to fly with severe allergies.
Some of them offer to allow pre-boarding so passengers can wipe down their seats (isn’t this the airline crew’s job?). That’s because all of these airlines can’t guarantee an allergen-free environment. What’s interesting is that a lot of airlines only refer to “peanut allergies” when there are other things (i.e. fish) that can can have life-threatening consequences for some travelers.
Here are some highlights from a few airlines’s policies regarding passengers with allergies:
Alaska Airlines: We encourage passengers who are allergic to nuts to bring their own food items for travel. Passengers with severe allergies are also encouraged to consult with their doctor regarding the safety of air travel. Please advise the gate agent if you would like to pre-board to cleanse your immediate seating area.
American Airlines: We can’t accommodate requests to not serve certain foods or to provide nut “buffer zones.” Our planes are cleaned regularly, but can’t guarantee the removal of nut allergens on surfaces or in the air filters. Because of this, we can’t guarantee you won’t be exposed to peanuts or other tree nuts during flight, and we strongly encourage those with allergies to take all necessary medical precautions before flying.
United Airlines: For operational reasons, we cannot remove any onboard products based on individual customer requests, and we do not offer allergen-free buffer zones on our aircraft. Since we cannot guarantee allergen-free flights, we encourage customers to review any health concerns with their physicians prior to flying.
Delta Airlines: When you notify us that you have a peanut or nut allergy, we’ll refrain from serving peanuts and peanut products onboard your flight. We can allow you to board early to clean your seat area of trace allergens, but you must bring your own cleaning materials.
With over 15 million Americans suffering from food allergies (a number that is on the rise), it’s pretty astounding that airlines aren’t doing more to ensure the safety of their passengers. A website called No Nut Traveler is circulating a petition to include food allergies in the Passenger Bill of Rights. I’m not an allergy sufferer, but I find it absurd that the airlines are being so blasé when it comes to life-threatening health issues.
Is it really worth having someone die on your plane because you were too lazy to implement an effective policy on how to deal with severe allergies? The pilot on Bethenny Frankel’s flight didn’t think so, since he made the decision to divert the flight. A lot of fuel and time was wasted, not to mention hundreds of passengers had their plans interrupted as a result. Something that could have been avoided if the airline had real policies in place on how to deal with severe allergies…and not just “be careful!”
Do you suffer from severe food allergies? How do you handle them while traveling?