Allergy/Asthma Information Association

Air Travel Accessibility and the Allergic

By Yvonne Rousseau, AAIA BC/Yukon Regional Coordinator

How is it working?

Over the past year or two the AAIA has received a number of complaints from allergic air travelers. Most of these complaints relate to peanut and nut allergy although some were concerned with the practice of allowing pets in the cabin.

In many of these cases there appears to have been discrepancies between the information given to people at the time of booking a flight and what actually happens on the flight with regard to whether peanuts and nuts are served on the plane. There seems to be an information flow problem within some airlines regarding their policies and this sometimes causes a lot of frustration and disruption for the allergic traveler. We have had complaints that some reservations and customer service staff give inconsistent information and flight attendants have been unhelpful and unsympathetic. While it is impossible for us to know how widespread these problems are, we have begun to investigate this issue.

The Canadian Transportation Agency has also received several allergy complaints in regard to air travel. As a result of these complaints, the CTA has looked at whether an allergy should be considered a disability. In making their ruling they have considered the World Health Organization’s definition of disability. The link for the CTA’s allergy jurisdictional decision can be found at the following Web site: www.cta-otc.gc.ca/rulings-decisions/decisions/2002/A/AT/243-AT-A-2002_e.html

They have ruled that, although an allergy as such is not a disability, there might be people who have a disability for the purposes of Part V, which can be attributed to their allergy. The Agency will continue to examine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a person who has an allergy is a person with a disability for the purposes of the accessibility provisions of the CTA.

What can you do?

If you have an allergy related problem with an airline you can file a complaint with the CTA. For further information about the complaint process call 1-888-222-2592 or go to www.cta-otc.gc.ca. The complaint form can be found here as well. You do not have to have actually traveled to have your complaint reviewed. If you foresee a problem with travel with an airline, you can file a complaint if you have first sent a written complaint to the airline. Moreover, you can still lodge a complaint even if the incident in question is not that recent. The above Web site also lists several airlines and their contact information. If you have an issue with an airline and travel with allergies, let the airline know, let us know and let the Canadian Transportation Agency know about it.

Review of Airline Allergy Policies

In my calls to airlines for this article, I stressed to them that I was not looking for any guarantee about peanut or nut-free flights as I know that they cannot guarantee that some passenger will not open up a bag of peanuts or nuts. I also stressed to them that I was not concerned about any food which says “may contain traces of peanuts or nuts” and I was not concerned about traces of peanut or nuts in the meals because anyone with anaphylaxis should take their own food onboard and not eat airline food. I was not even inquiring about traces of peanuts or nuts on the seats. My only question to them was whether the airline itself would be serving peanuts or nuts throughout the plane on a particular flight. This is a matter of risk reduction as opposed to elimination of all risk.

The following is a sampling as of August 16, 2006 of airline policies in regard to allergies. This is intended as a reference only. I would encourage travelers to do their own research prior to flying because policies can change – and airlines need to know that this is an important concern for many of their customers.

Information varies as airline staff offered different kinds of details in my conversations with them. I have recorded the information as it was given to me. AAIA cannot be responsible for any change in airline policy or individual incident you may encounter with an airline. Please re-confirm the airline policy at the time you book a flight. For less well-known airlines I have made reference to where they fly but the traveler must re-confirm these flights as they can also change.

Please note that no airline is able to guarantee a peanut or nut-free aircraft as other passengers may bring their own peanut or nut products onboard. Nor is any airline able to guarantee peanut or nut-free meals. Individuals with any life-threatening food allergy should take their own food onboard and not eat airline food. It is the responsibility of the individual with allergies or their parent to wipe down the airline seat or cover it with a blanket if necessary. Even if an airline does not allow pets in the cabin, you must expect that service animals, i.e. seeing-eye dogs, etc. will be allowed.

Air Canada: www.aircanada.com or 1-888-247-2262

They have currently phased out peanuts. They do serve almonds. Both cashews and almonds are served in business class. They will not remove nuts from the flight. It is up to the individual agent at the boarding area as to whether they will make a pre-boarding announcement or not. They will not accept an unaccompanied minor who has a peanut allergy. After September 18, 2006 pets will no longer be allowed in the cabin. The official policy on peanuts can be found at www.aircanada.com/en/travelinfo/onboard/dining/nutritional.html

Air Transat: www.airtransat.ca or 1-877-470-1011

They do not serve peanuts or nuts. Let reservations know about your allergy at the time of booking. With advance notice they will put measures in place to try to ensure a safe flight. Pets are not allowed in the cabin.

Alaska Air/Horizon Air: www.alaskaair.com or 1-800-252-7522 or Horizon Air at 1-800-547-9308

Horizon Air is the sister company to Alaska Air and their policies regarding allergies are the same. They do serve roasted peanuts. They do not serve other nuts. Passengers need to register their allergy at the time of booking. It will be forwarded to their head office. The passenger will be told that they could encounter peanuts and nuts on the plane. See Web site for peanut buffer zone. They do not make pre-boarding announcements. Pets are allowed in the cabin.

British Airways: www.britishairways.com or 1-800-Airways

Peanuts are not included within any aircraft meals or snacks, however they cannot guarantee against accidental cross-contamination that may occur within flight kitchens.

The only exception to this policy is on their long haul flights to the Far East where Peanut Satay may be included in the menu. The only other nuts that may be served on a flight would be in the Asian Vegetarian meal. Presently pets are allowed in the cabin but that is expected to change soon.

CanJet: www.canjet.com or 1-866-447-7000

They fly within Canada. They do not serve nuts or peanuts on their flights. You must let the reservation clerk know about your allergy. They will make a pre-boarding announcement to other passengers. Pets are allowed in the cabin.

Quantas: www.quantas.com or 1-800-227-4500

They do not serve peanuts or nuts. If you tell them that you have a life-threatening allergy, they will send a medical form for your doctor to fill out and return to the Quantas medical department in order to get clearance to fly. Pets are not allowed in the cabin.

Skyservice: www.skyservicebas.com or 1-888-571-0094

They have some regular flights within Canada (Vancouver, Calgary, St. Johns and Toronto). They are also a charter airline to holiday and sun destinations.

They do not serve peanuts and nuts. They do not serve peanut butter. Passengers can bring on their own snacks and meals. They will make a pre-boarding announcement to other passengers. You must tell the reservation clerk of your allergy at the time of booking. They do not carry pets on their aircraft at all.

Westjet: www.westjet.com or 1-800-538-5696 (Special Needs) or 1-877-952-2737 (Customer Care

They do not serve peanuts as snacks. They may sell or provide other snacks containing cashews, Brazil nuts, walnuts or almonds. They serve almonds on their flights on a rotational basis. Call Customer Care re: food on flights under two hours long. Pets are allowed in the cabin.

Zoom: www.flyzoom.com or 1-866-359-9666

They do not serve peanuts or nuts. Tell the reservations clerk of your allergy at the time you book. If you have booked well ahead they will send a notification to the Zoom Representative at the airport. They will make a pre-boarding announcement. After booking your flight, write a letter or and notify them of your allergy and the flight you are booked on. The representative said, “Zoom is trying to accommodate the person with allergies”. Pets are not allowed in the cabin.

It is important to emphasize that it is the allergic traveller, from the time the reservation is made, who must take responsibility for informing the airline about the allergy and verifying the kind of food that will be served during the flight. Not all companies will be equally attuned to the needs of allergic travelers.

If you have had an experience with an airline that differs from the information given in this article please do not hesitate to communicate with us.

from Allergy & Asthma News, Issue 3 2006

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