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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Air Peanut

Today I flew for the first time with our daughter since we learned of her severe peanut allergy. I was not really that concerned but certainly made sure I was prepared. Though I did forget the flannel crib sheet (to cover our seat) I had wipes, snacks, water and the usual assortment of snacks from home. Of course Benadryl and two EpiPens were in the bag as well.

My wife called Transport Canada and they noted that EpiPens were fine to bring through security in Canada but if we traveled to the US we would need to have a doctor’s note to bring them on board.

We also called ahead to West Jet. The woman on the phone was helpful but noted that they ‘couldn’t guarantee a peanut free flight’. West Jet does not serve peanuts but passengers could bring peanuts on board. She also said to make airline staff aware of the allergy at check-in time so that I could board early. In addition, she said that the inflight crew could make an announcement to other passengers letting them know that a peanut allergic child was on board and that it would be appreciated if people refrained from eating peanut snacks.

I was impressed that West Jet would be so accommodating … however, it seems that these policies did not make their way to the airport.
When I arrived at YVR I let the check-in staff know of our daughter's allergy. I was met with a look of ‘what would you like me to do?’ and the stock ‘we can’t guarantee a peanut free flight’ statement. I told her that I was just letting her know as customer service thought it would be a good idea.

I let it go and moved on.

After convincing my daughter that our baggage would return to us even though I sent it down the belt, we went through security. I found it ironic that security was more concerned with the bottle of Benadryl we had than the two EpiPens. Liquids are the concern of the day it seems.

We arrived at the gate just prior to boarding. I went up to the gate agent and explained to her that our daughter had a severe peanut allergy and I was told to let the staff know. She gave me the same look of ‘what would you like me to do?’ and the stock ‘we can’t guarantee a peanut free flight’ speech. With a note of condescension she added, ‘tell the flight crew; there’s nothing I can do’. Then she turned away and went back to work.

Again, I let it go and moved on.

We boarded early and I pulled out the wipes to clean the surfaces around our seats. During a stopover, cleaning crews pick up visible garbage and recycling but do not have time to clean surfaces. I am not sure what the cleaning schedule is but I was appalled today at the layer of grime that covered the windows, meal trays and the console buttons. Given that my daughter apparently needs to press her face to the window to see the mountains, this is a concern for all kids and especially those with allergies.

I also informed the flight staff of the allergy. The attendant noted the allergy and again started in on the 'we can't ensure a peanut free flight' speech ... I told her I knew and that I understood but I was told to let her know.After the first series of announcements did not include a mention of our peanut allergy, I motioned for the flight attendant as she walked past. I mentioned that customer service noted that she could make an announcement. Again I got the ‘we can’t guarantee a peanut free flight’ which was followed up by ‘if we announce anything about peanuts then we have legal exposure’.

So there it was. West Jet’s policy on accommodating a peanut allergy is to warn us four times that they cannot guarantee a peanut free flight and then do nothing else for fear of a lawsuit should an allergic reaction occur.

I was really disappointed with their service. I expected better from West Jet given that their brand is based on being friendly. When it comes to peanut allergy they really missed the mark. I was not really asking for anything special. The expectation of an announcement was due to our conversation with customer service, and frankly the announcement would be a good idea.

Instead, they did nothing to accommodate my daughter’s allergy and made me feel as though I was being a ridiculous ‘peanut parent’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

West Jet needs to do more than simply not serve peanuts.

I think that it would be great if they made sure that no peanuts were consumed in the three rows on either side of an allergic child. I also think that a simple announcement does not have to create supposed legal exposure … wouldn’t this work? … “Passengers are advised that there is a child on board who is severely allergic to peanuts. We ask that passengers in rows 22-28 refrain from eating peanuts and suggest that remaining passengers avoid peanut snacks as well in the interest of safety.” Nothing invasive there. Shouldn’t create any lawsuits.

As a condition of making the announcement, I would be willing to sign a waiver discharging the airline’s liability should a peanut brought on board by a passenger cause an anaphylactic reaction. I would trade my right to sue for a safer environment any day.

This doesn’t just apply to nuts. Though nuts pose a greater risk due to their ability to roll away, if a child is allergic to milk then the people sitting in the immediate seats around the child should perhaps avoid milk to prevent an accident. This just makes sense doesn’t it?

The peanut risk is this … kids play on the floor of the plane. If you drop a peanut it could easily roll 5+ rows away. Kids also play peek-a-boo with the people in the seats behind them. Today I was terrified that the kids behind us might pass a ‘peanut snack’ through the seats to my daughter and I had visions of her eating it before I could stop her. These are not unreasonable or imaginary risks.

Today West Jet made me feel like I was being ridiculous. Ridiculous would be if the people behind us rolled a peanut under our seat, my daughter ate it and the plane had to make an emergency landing due to an anaphylactic reaction.


Growing in Grace (Nicole) said...

I'm sorry you had a disappointing experience. I too have felt that feeling of being the "peanut parent". My husband and peanut allergic have flown once (USA), but I'm nervous to fly with him again.

The Cookbook Junkie said...

This seems to be a common story. It's absolutely ridiculous that the airlines continue to play stupid like this. It's not surprising that they're constantly going bankrupt. Unfortunately it is going to take a serious incident to get the airlines to smarten up.

On a side note, my son received a Little People airplane as a gift for Christmas from his aunt(at my suggestion) and there are little peanuts laying next to the one of the seats of the plane. Grrrrrrrrrr.

NoPeanuts said...

Well, it does seem that peanuts and airlines go hand in hand. Here is an enlightening exchange on the Southwest blog which ranges from customers who feel that the allergic 1% should not be accomodate, to empoyees outlining a policy similar to West Jet's and even one post that called into question whether peanut allergy was even real. The link:

[URL=]Southwest Blog[/URL]


NoPeanuts said...

Hmm ... that worked ... here is the URL ... you'll have to put it into your browser manually: