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A Real Housewives Fiasco: Why Are There No Passengers’ Rights When It Comes to Allergies?

A Real Housewives Fiasco: Why Are There No Passengers’ Rights When It Comes to Allergies?
Ariana Arghandewal

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?”

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?

View Comments (15)


  1. CaliforniaSteve

    January 7, 2019 at 11:57 am

    She’s an attention hound (would have used a little more descriptive term, but thought better of it). Her claim to fame is that she thinks she’s supposed to be famous.

  2. closecover

    January 7, 2019 at 12:22 pm

    Don’t forget those of us who suffer debilitating allergies from exposure to dog or cat hair or dander. We deserve relief from those who insist on bringing their pets into the cabin

  3. fotographer

    January 7, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    so the right of one passengers out way the rest.. sorry you have allergies, not fun I am sure, but then carry the necessary medication you need with you

  4. Annalisa12


    January 7, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    She’s jetted around the world before. What did she do before

  5. sfoeuroflyer

    January 7, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    This whole story is upside down. If a person has such serious allergies, that person should avoid flying. One person does not “have rights” to disrupt the lives of hundreds of people. It is up to the person with allergies to inquire of the airline whether there is a risk of exposure. If the person determines the risk is there, then that person should chose another means of transport. As for the comment about dogs, again same rule applies. Frankly, dogs pose a lesser risk to the passengers as a group, than does a person traveling with a cold or the flu.

  6. skidooman

    January 7, 2019 at 7:19 pm

    Sorry, but there is no right and there should not be.

    Sure, the airline should try to accommodate you – until it starts impacting other people. So, not serving you fish? OK. Preventing OTHERS to received their fish? Sorry, but not, we still get our fish. Bring your medication or just don’t fly.

    It may sound harsh but consider what will happen when you start giving that “right”: airlines won’t be able to serve food or let you bring your own food at ALL.

    – Can’t bring nuts
    – Can’t bring fish
    – Can’t bring pork, beef, or any kind of meat since it offends the vegans now living among us or some kind of religious zealot.
    – Bread? Noodles? Yo, you may have celiac people onboard!
    – Fruits? Sorry, people may have allergies too.

    So, the choice comes down to protein supplement # 243 or nothing. And nothing, on a flight of 3, 4, 6, or 12 hours, is not an option. Sorry.

    Bring medication. Don’t eat stuff you are allergic to. And if even the wiff of a nut or a fish will trigger something life threatening, then sorry mate you shouldn’t travel at all.

  7. Transpacificflyer

    January 8, 2019 at 12:48 am

    Many of the claims of allergies are in fact psychological issues, i.e. mental health dysfunction manifestations. For example, the claims of debilitating allergies from exposure to animal dander are not supported by immunology research. Understandably, some people do have serious allergies. However, the reality today is that many of these allergies are treatable and can be managed. There comes a point when people must take responsibility for their own lives and stop imposing their problems on others. I have allergies to all sorts of animals, but I have managed it through appropriate retraining of my immune system. It took some effort and time. People can do the same and stop playing the pity victim, as it is tiresome.

  8. celsius1939

    January 8, 2019 at 8:57 am

    I agree with those who say do not travel on airplanes if you have an allergy. It is not fair to those who are allergy-free to restrict what can or cannot be served. I, also, agree with those who say do not travel if you need a service dog. We do not need pets or service animals on planes.

  9. Matt4

    January 8, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Fortunately no one seems to be allergic to Champagne so we can still enjoy it onboard 😉

  10. John Aldeborgh

    January 9, 2019 at 11:02 am

    I’m sorry but this is becoming ridiculous. If people can’t comprehend they have a serious allergy condition and protect themselves by understanding the potential risks of travel than how or why are the Airlines in anyway responsible. The Airlines are a mass transit system, nothing more. You travel at your own risk. I’ve gotten sick countless times over 40 years because of airline flights, where people with colds, the flu or some other contagious condition while flying. Who’s to say your seat mate hasn’t brought a food you might be allergic to in their carry-on baggage. I see people eating non-airline supplied food all the time, nuts are one of the most common items. Again, this is not the Airlines problem, it a matter of personal responsibility. What is the matter with people that they feel they can abdicate responsibility and then try and hold others responsible.

  11. kkua

    January 9, 2019 at 11:50 am

    I’m allergic to red meat, specifically cow protein. But this debilitating issue has not stopped me from flying. So why can’t this D-list celebrity learn and cope with this issue like I have?

    Overcome your adversity… don’t let it consume you!

  12. Artpen100

    January 9, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    I agree with those saying it is not the airline’s responsibility to guarantee no allergens. If you have a very sensitive allergy that might kill you, you need to take the preventative action to avoid dying. That might include not flying, or flying private.

  13. drphun

    January 10, 2019 at 5:46 am

    How common are these serious allergies, by which I mean the ones where you die if you get a whiff of fish or if someone at the other end of the plane eats a peanut?

    It feels like the “I want a snack and can’t eat peanuts so change the snack” group may be saying they are in much less common “peanut at the other end of the plane will kill me” group to get their way.

    After all, if I had the “peanut at the other end of the plane will kill me” allergy, I wouldn’t leave it up to the airlines and would find another way to travel that I could control. Sure, ii would mean that I would have to vacation domestically rather than overseas, but I would live.

  14. MimiB22

    January 10, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    I’m sick and tired of people not taking responsibility for their allergies, real or perceived. If you have a deathly allergy, maybe you shouldn’t be using public transportation !! The huge majority of us who aren’t allergic can’t be expected to cater to your problem. My son in law says he’s “allergic” to my pet cat. His nose runs and eyes get red if he’s around her. It’s more accurate to call it a sensitivity. So, we vacuum and dust to reduce dander and he takes an antihistamine for his visits at our house. We find our way. His son [by his first wife] has a much more severe allergy, which can cause his throat to seize up. We really like this young man, but we’ve figured out it’s dangerous for him to visit us in our home, evades we can’t get rid of 100% of the allergens. Nor are we going to get rid of a beloved pet. We meet him outside, at restaurants or other places.

  15. justpassinthru

    January 11, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    I have had many flights where peanuts were not served or passengers were asked not to eat peanuts due to an allergy onboard…Airlines seem do what they can to accommodate. If you have a truly life threatening allergy you had best think about how you travel on any mass transit form…buses and trains don’t even announce your presence and I may be obliviously sitting near you enjoying my peanuts. If you ask I’ll probably stop, but it could be too late by then.

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