There are certain things that come to mind when you're thinking about flying: cramped seats, overstuffed overhead bins, crazy bag fees, and little bags of peanuts. Some airlines still serve them and they seem innocent enough.
Except when you have a peanut allergy. Then, those little bags of peanuts could be the cause of a life threatening allergic reaction at 32,000 feet.
As a parent of a child with a peanut and tree nut allergy the thought of flying in a metal tube filled with potential food hazards is a bit stressful. Last month we flew Delta to Ft. Lauderdale and before our flights I made it a point to contact Delta's "disability services" to let them know about Olivia's allergies. I wanted to make sure the flight crews were aware of her allergies and hoped they would make every
From Delta's website: Effective on flights operating June 1, 2012 and beyond, when you notify us that you have a peanut allergy, we’ll refrain from serving peanuts and peanut products onboard your flight. We'll also advise cabin service to board additional non-peanut snacks, which will allow our flight attendants to serve these snack items to everyone within this area. Gate agents will be notified in case you'd like to pre-board and cleanse the immediate seating area. We'll do everything we can, but unfortunately we still can't guarantee that the flight will be completely peanut-free.
OK great. No flight can ever be 100% peanut free, I get that. (Unless of course airlines actually created "peanut free flights" which would be amazing for people with peanut allergies, but I digress). I know there will always be people who bring some kind of peanut product on board. However, we had two very different experiences on our Delta flights. One good. One not so good. And then there's the response I received from Delta.
The Detroit to Ft. Lauderdale flight was more than I expected when it came to accommodating Olivia. I spoke to the gate agent and she assured me they had a notation in the flight document about the allergies. Then, they allowed Olivia and I to board with the first class passengers so that I could wipe down our seats and tray tables with Wet Wipes - just in case there had been some serious peanut eating on the previous flight.
The flight attendant for our section immediately approached us and let me know that he was going to make an announcement that it was a peanut free flight. And then before take off he told the three rows behind us, the two rows across from us and the one row in front of us that they were in a "peanut free zone" and asked that they refrain from eating ANY peanut products. That. Was. Awesome.
Then, the snack cart came by. And I was surprised to see that the 'peanut free flight' was actually not so peanut free. Passengers could still purchase snack boxes with tree nut products and peanut M&Ms. Interesting.
Our flight home from Ft. Lauderdale was less than stellar when it came to the peanut issue. After flagging down a flight attendant to tell her of Olivia's allergies, I was essentially waved off with a "we don't serve peanuts" response. Then she made an announcement that this was a "peanut free flight." And then she proceeded to offer bags of trail mix filled with peanuts, snack boxes with peanut products and peanut M&Ms to anyone who wanted to pay the upcharge. And, there was no "peanut free zone" around Olivia's seat.
To say I was furious would be an understatement. I understand that the other passengers on the plane don't give a damn about my child's food allergy, but the airline should. If the airline is going to claim that they will refrain from serving peanuts and peanut products on board a flight where a peanut allergy is known, then they damn well better refrain from serving ANYTHING that has peanuts in it. That's the right thing to do. That's the safe thing to do.
I emailed Delta's customer service once we arrived home and today I received a response that included an apology (sort of) for the Ft. Lauderdale flight but also included a very condescending portion where they seemed to blame me for not understanding their "peanut free" policy and then tried to school me on the fact that many things might contain peanut products and those are out of their control.
Here are a few excerpts:
1. ...it is crystal clear from your detailed note that there seems to be a misunderstanding with our current peanut policy. Allow me to clarify that we have adopted a policy for our passengers with peanut allergies whereby when we are notified in advance or at the gate or onboard the aircraft, we will refrain from serving peanuts and peanut products on the flight. [I guess Peanut M&Ms don't really contain peanuts then, right? Yeah. Clearly I misunderstood their policy. Silly me. I thought peanut free flight actually meant peanut free.]
2. In addition, it is always helpful for a passenger to review their needs with our team member at the gate and with the crew onboard their flight. Respectfully we cannot guarantee an environment free of allergens including peanuts, peanut dust, peanut oil or peanut remnants. Please remember onboard meals may contain both peanuts and tree nuts and other items served onboard may be processed or packaged in factories that produce peanut or tree nut products. [Oh. So you were just kidding about the whole "peanut free" flight thing? I understand. Yep, there was a crystal clear misunderstanding.]
3. As I am sure you are aware, peanuts are used in cooking, cosmetics, perfumes, shoe polish, candy bars, garnishes, plastics, lubricants, and so forth. [No. I wasn't aware of this. I'm an idiot and only thought peanuts were present in PEANUTS. Thanks for schooling me Delta. I feel so much smarter now.]
4. In spite of our policy not to serve peanuts, it is disturbing to learn that some snacks made available for purchase may include some form of peanut/tree nuts. Thus, we appreciate you bringing this matter to our attention. [Oh you're so welcome. But I bet you're not going to get rid of peanut M&Ms anytime soon, are ya?]
Look, I get it. I can't shield my daughter from every possible peanut-induced hazard out there. I can't force the guy in seat 24A to not eat that PB&J he brought from home. But I should be able to expect that an airline that claims to create peanut free flights by NOT serving peanuts and peanut products to actually STICK to that claim.
Having a peanut free flight goes beyond a small bag of peanuts. If you really want to keep your passengers safe, then don't serve trail mix or snack boxes with almonds or peanut M&Ms. It's not enough to say the words "peanut free" if you aren't going to take the actions necessary to be peanut free.
I don't know if parents of kids without food allergies can fully comprehend what it's like to have a child with a potentially life-threatening food allergy. I'm not over-reacting to our experience on Delta, trust me. It seems like every day of our trip I was telling Olivia she couldn't eat something or she shouldn't touch something because it might have peanuts or tree nuts or sesame. And because we don't know what Olivia's "trigger item" is when it comes to her peanut/tree nut allergy that makes it all the more stressful. What if she's more allergic to almonds or hazelnuts than she is to peanuts? What if merely being next to someone with a bag of peanuts is enough to cause a reaction? Or what if she touched something on that flight that Mr. Seat32C touched right after he ate a bag of trail mix filled with peanuts. And what if she then touched her mouth and had an allergic reaction and we had to use the EpiPens on her to prevent anaphylaxis at 32,000 feet.
That is the reality of having a child with food allergies. There's a whole lot of "what ifs" involved in every food decision. And I just wish Delta - and all other airlines - would realize this when they talk about "peanut free" flights. What if they really meant "peanut free" when they used those words?