British Airways – a rant

Airbus A319 takes off from London Heathrow Airport

I’M GOING to dash this off very quickly as I don’t have a heap of time but am too angry not to rant. In short: we are travelling, as we often do, with BA in Europe this summer and, as you may or may not know, our 18-month-old Sid is severely allergic to – among other stuff – nuts.

I know from previous experience that BA is uniquely unhelpful when it comes to dealing with nut allergy onboard. Their website clearly states (as if this gets them off the hook) that they will not make cabin announcements and won’t ban nuts from flights. Privately, crew have told me on more than one occasion that this has been deemed a ‘human rights’ issue – laughable, this, but apparently it may be against the human rights of passengers who wish to eat peanuts to ban them from doing so. Words fail.

In the past we’ve been lucky enough to get cabin crew who have flouted the ‘no announcements’ rule, or at least asked the people sitting around us to refrain from eating nuts for the flight (a hardship, no doubt, but thankfully fellow passengers have mustered the courage and stamped on their own hopes and dreams to oblige).

We have had amazing treatment from other airlines, notably Monarch, which, advised in advance of nut allergy, was very happy to veto nut products from sale onboard for our flight and make an announcement to boot.

Just recently, Delta Airlines announced a new policy to protect peanut allergy flyers – namely to create a “buffer zone” three rows in front and three rows behind. When notified of a peanut allergy, they will refrain from serving any peanut products on board and provide extra non-peanut snacks to keep everyone happy. Travellers with peanut allergies will also be allows to board early to give their seating area an extra clean if they so wish. See here for more.

All of this in mind, I thought I would send BA an email cataloguing Sidney’s allergy and the fact he carries an EpiPen and is under the care of a paediatric allergist, in the hope that they might adopt discretion and agree to ditch peanuts, at least, and even better nuts in general, from the on-board catering. I would be happy to provide a doctor’s letter if that would help – I can understand they might need proof we aren’t self-diagnosed loonies. This is the response I have just this minute received, in full:

Dear Ms Baracaia

Thank you for your email regarding your son’s nut allergy, and his journey with British Airways.

Unfortunately we are unable to guarantee completely nut/peanut free flights on any of our services. Some snacks provided to all customers onboard could contain these items.

I have to advise you that we are unable to make a cabin announcement to other passengers requesting them not to eat such items – it could be that some passengers might not understand the announcement due to language difficulties and so could eat nuts/peanuts they have brought onto the flight, or that some customers still wish to eat those they have with them.

I have commented your booking regarding your son’s sever allergy, however this is still not a guarantee that the cabin crew will be able to assist on the days you travel.

If you are still concerned about your son’s fitness to fly then you are recommended to discuss your travel plans with your doctor. If, after this discussion, you or your medical practitioner have any concerns about your fitness to fly, then the BA Passenger Medical Clearance Unit can be contacted on +44 (0)208 738 5444.

I am sorry if this news disappoints you.

Regards
Claire
British Airways

Setting everything else aside, I honestly don’t understand how an airline would not want to mitigate the risk of having a passenger on board who might require urgent medical treatment – not least a passenger who is less than two years old. We are very well aware of the risks and otherwise, thanks, Claire; I am very well informed and very careful and have full medical advice on pretty much every damn thing we do. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t provide a great deal of peace of mind to know that the airline we are travelling with, and the crew on board, are doing everything they can to ensure as safe an environment for our son as possible.

Claiming that some passengers might not understand is a cop-out. There are never any guarantees but to know that BA isn’t wilfully doling out nuts to passengers would be a great help – as would trying to communicate to as many onboard as possible the situation. That alone would minimise risk.

I don’t suggest that anaphylactic attacks are a common occurrence on flights, but even a skin reaction can be deeply distressing, not least for a child, but for us as parents, too, of course. An aeroplane is a uniquely closeted environment where escape is impossible and help not always at hand.

Citing language barriers, human rights and other bilge to justify a wholly bull-headed policy is a disgrace, if you ask me. Unfortunately we will still be flying BA this summer as we have no other option for this family holiday and seats are already booked and paid for. Thankfully we will be sharing the aisle with no-one else but close family, who I’m sure will be able to restrain themselves from whipping out a Snickers.

I will be going armed with Milton’s sterilising wipes, EpiPens and antihistamines to hand and hope that our cabin crew have a modicum of understanding and sympathy enough not to wave peanuts around us.

But shame on you, British Airways.

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11 thoughts on “British Airways – a rant

  1. Janet B

    Bloody disgusting ! This needs to be escalated and publicised as much as poss. But I don’t need to tell you that 🙂

  2. Polly Williams

    Thanks for this. I have a 5 year old who is severely allergic to nuts and egg, and have to confess we’ve not yet taken him on a flight because of the attitudes highlighted here. We already have a constant battle raising awareness of his condition in school, parties, all the usual stuff. Even though one in fifty children now suffer from food allergies there’s still widespread ignorance, and it’s this ignorance that puts children at risk more than anything. And BA, who should know better, are putting allergy sufferers at unnecessary risk with this dismissive shrug of corporate shoulders. Come on BA, sort it out!

  3. Kathryn

    We had a similar experience with BA last year although thought they had a nut free policy. I was in absolute shock and fear when I saw them serving dessert with almonds on top. The feeling that you can’t escape/get off is terrifying. Man up BA and sort it out.

  4. I have been incredibly ill (sickness and vomiting) on a flight where nuts were served. I am terrified to this day and rarely fly now. Most airlines are really helpful and I can assure you BA are in the minority with this viewpoint. I’m disgusted. What would they do if someone actually died on one of their flights because they served nuts? Ridiculous to suggest other passengers can’t survive a flight without eating them – what’s going to happen? Honestly. Very disappointing from a British company. I agree – Shame on you BA

  5. Bloody ridiculous! Ask them why they feel the need to make any on board announcements if they cite language barrier as an issue. Why bother having any announcements at all if there is no guarantee that people will understand? What’s the use in the on board safety announcements? This is where I think the power of twitter and facebook should be used to expose the hypocrisy.

  6. kay

    Hello,
    we have a 16 year old with a severe peanut allergy and have pre-flight, flight and post-flight jitters every time we go away. never fly more than two hours, normally fly with monarch or easyjet and have only flown with BA once this xmas – LCY – PMI. No announcements, BUT, business class seats and very understanding crew (spoke to us at length about the menu and ingredients). I still spent two hours scared stiff in case the two other passengers in our little bit ate peanuts (they did not). No peanuts were served by the crew.
    We were on an easyjet flight in october 2012 (pmi-lgw) and the passenger right behind us (spanish and mildly intoxicated) ate roasted nuts. The crew asked me to intervene first (they said they would get involved if he would not listen to me). I explained to him that an announcement was made (he did not hear or understand it) and that it would be really great of him if he could just put the bag away for the next hour (left until landing). He was obliging but totally bemused by the entire thing. Only really understood the bit when I talked about the 12 minute emergency landing onto the nearest strip and a possible 24 hour delay to his journey. All the time I thought I was going to faint, fearing my son’s reaction. Since then I have trawled travel forums and found many, many comments by people who thought that those with a nut allergy were inconsiderate when flying and putting other people off their peanuts (not joking, check out trip advisor etc). I can only hope that they or someone they care about do not have to seek medical assistance or rely on the good will and understanding of their fellow passengers in an emergency.

    1. Thanks so much for your post – it’s a minefield and I totally sympathise. Given some airlines are considerate/canny enough to remove nuts from flights if and when they are alerted to an allergic passenger, I don’t see why it can’t be common practice. Citing the ‘human rights’ of other passengers to eat nuts is absolute tripe.

  7. Dr Ian Carnell

    My wife has a tree nut, peanut and coconut allergy so severe that even a quick whiff will send her into anaphylactic shock. Things like coconut airfreshners are literally a killer. We had a family (eight members) holiday planned and due to concerns over my wife’s condition seven of us flew with a budget airline and my wife flew with BA. This choice was made on the basis of pre-flight assurances given. She spoke with BA customer services staff on three separate occasions and was told that if she flew business class the relevant lounge at Gatwick airport would be nut free, there would be a pre-flight announcement alerting fellow passengers to the fact that someone on board had a severe nut allergy and requesting none consumption of nuts, that all of the crew from the pilot down would be aware of my wife’s condition and fully conversant as to necessary actions should intervention be necessary and that no food on board would contain nuts or nut products. Upon boarding the plane and announcing her presence in the business class section she was met with a totally uncaring attitude to the extent that any confidence in BA keeping my wife safe evaporated. She had so little confidence in the BA staff that she decided to use an EpiPen as soon as the flight took off. No assistance was offered to assist with the blood streaming down her leg as a result. Part way through the flight the steward in the business class section announced to my wife that fruit cake containing nuts was going to be served to the rest of the passengers. As a result my wife suffered an episode of Anaphylaxis and was forced to use her second EpiPen. Again, there was no offer of assistance, no water, no cold cloths, no oxygen, no nothing. The staff simply did not care if my wife lived or died at their hands. My poor wife was terrified, distressed and in a state of panic travelling on her own having received what was very clearly false assurances before flying. I probably spent two hours on the phone to various members of BA staff during my holiday making all sorts of complaints and requests. I asked for a member of my family to accompany her on the flight back at the expense of BA to provide assistance and company but that was met with an unrelenting no. I could not get past the most junior customer relations and customer service staff to anyone in a more senior position. I found an e-mail address for the BA CEO (keith.x.williams@ba.com) and made my feelings known by this method. I received two e-mails from members of his staff and to say they were unsympathetic and unhelpful would be greatly understating the matter. If you fly BA with a nut allergy you are basically on your own. IF YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF ALLERGY I WOULD VERY STRONGLY ADVISE YOU NOT TO FLY WITH BA – YOU COULD DIE. Dr Ian Carnell

  8. Pingback: “Your safety is our priority.” Tell that to Tracey. | yesnobananas

  9. kay

    I felt awful reading your post. Best wishes to your wife. We were always given advice from various friends that Monarch advertise themselves as a nut-free airline and easyjet have, up to now, been fairly consistent in not wanting emergency landings. We are due to fly to GLA with BA from LGW and I am already wishing we booked with one of the low cost carriers out of Gatwick. A few years ago I heard of a bad experience with Ryanair (flight to Murcia) from a couple whose property we rented and who had a severely allergic daughter (peanuts, also, hence our custom – never felt safer using someone else’s utensils). BA have been consistent in providing no advice, no assurances and almost non-existent service (bar one short flight to PMI), I don’t know what possessed me to book with them. Well, it will be the longest hour in my life up to that point, probably.

  10. kay

    just to update on above – the entire plane was munching on almonds and cashews happily dished out by the crew. Longest flight in history of short flights. BA clueless about allergies, but at least no peanuts (our only severe allergy).

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