Airlines ‘allergic’ to robust policy on food allergies

Despite flying being consistently one of the safest modes of transport in present day, there is still no blanket policy on how air carriers should address the issue of passengers flying with allergies. For an industry so meticulous about several safety metrics, such as the mass & balance of the aircraft, pressurisation and air conditioning systems, classes of airspace and much more; there is still no definitive way on food allergy legislation whilst airborne.

The counter argument to the above is the perception that there are too many indirect factors that could have an impact on the presence of allergy substances onboard an aircraft. This can range from particles filtering through an aircraft that could pose a threat once airborne, such as dust or manure.

In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is conducting research in order to potentially find a quantifiable way of measuring the severity that an allergic substance onboard an aircraft could cause to passengers and indeed air crew. Should the level of allergens present be measurable then both airline staff and indeed passengers would feel more comfortable in establishing a middle ground that is mutually beneficial. In the UK approximately two million people have a potentially life threatening allergy.

The cliche often used by air carriers is ‘we cannot guarantee an allergen-free flight’. Whilst in the literal sense of the meaning this is true, there must surely be a more uniform empathy amongst air carriers on how to manage this aspect in the best interests of the passengers. This can be illustrated by examining the allergen policies of some of the world’s storied airlines:

Being a no-frills airline, they do not attempt to elaborate on their plain and simple allergen policy by stating ‘we cannot guarantee a peanut-free flight’. Ironically, they can often guarantee a cost of a flight for ‘peanuts’.

British Airways
‘Fly To Serve’ is their modern day slogan. Indeed, they state that they can at their discretion suspend the distribution of nuts onboard their flights via a public announcement.

Their cabin crew are trained to identify any potential symptoms of anaphylaxis (a critical life-threatening allergic reaction) and they carry an onboard supply of Epipens.

Qatar Airways
They insist that a doctor’s medical note must be provided at least 48 hours in advance for passengers with severe allergies, and their advice is that they bring their own food onboard.

Virgin Atlantic
They adopt a more ‘legal jargon’ policy by stating ‘peanuts are never knowingly included, but meals may contain traces’.

Southwest Airlines
The airline responsible for pioneering the concept of low cost carriers, has now publicly stated that they will discontinue serving peanuts to passengers as of 1st August 2018.

Overall, it appears that the majority of air carriers place a big emphasis on passengers communicating with them regarding any food allergies that they have, and in turn they will attempt to address the situation in the way that they best see fit. However, this has the potential to provide varying levels in standards of safety and attitude by air carriers towards allergens. As such, the gap needs to be bridged between what air carriers deem to be suitable measures and what customers would render as satisfactory resolutions to their food allergies.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here