“Your safety is our priority.” Tell that to Tracey.

American Airlines Toronto to Miami Business Class Meal IT’S BEEN more than a year since I posted my rant about British Airways and its useless allergy policy. Since then, we’ve continued to fly with the airline because (a) we’re Executive Club members and the points are handy (b) the flight times are often the best for us and, more to the point, (c) my parents often (very kindly) treat us all to a family getaway and they fly with BA.

Mostly, despite my simmering annoyance about the company’s stubborn refusal to make any allowances for those with life-threatening allergies (unlike Monarch, EasyJet, Thomson…) we’ve been lucky enough to encounter helpful cabin crew.

Also, I have a system in place, namely:

1. Pack enough ‘safe’ food to entertain, distract and feed Sidney for the duration of the flight – meals, snacks, drinks, treats

2. Pack a few safe snacks for us to eat, too, lest the in-flight meals turn out to be laden with contraband

3. Alert the check-in desk of Sidney’s more severe allergies on arrival at the airport, so they can make a note on their system that will go through to the cabin crew

4. Tell the cabin crew as soon as we alight the plane of Sidney’s allergies, the fact that they are life-threatening and he carries an EpiPen and that we understand the company’s policy but would appreciate any help they can provide in minimising the risks. Usually that means not serving the dreaded allergens to anyone in our party and perhaps gently asking those sitting directly next to us to refrain if at all possible. Now I’m not unreasonable: someone in a seat three rows back eating sesame in a bread roll isn’t really going to pose much of a risk. But an entire cabin opening packets of cashews in unison and releasing the ‘dust’ into the air is a little more worrying

5. Give the seats, tables, windows and arm rests a good going over with Milton’s sterilising wipes before allowing Sidney to take his seat

6. I am slightly ashamed to confess that, where possible, and cost allowing, we opt for business class travel because this means no-one else will be sitting alongside us and we can better control the environment

As I said, mostly we’ve been blessed with helpful crew. On our early morning flight to Portugal this summer we realised that the breakfast meal would probably contain egg. While we would never allow Sidney to eat an airline meal, we ourselves prefer not to eat eggs, nuts or sesame around him as he doesn’t merely have to eat the food to react – if they touch his skin we’re in trouble, too. So on boarding I asked the crew to remove the omelette from our meals as a precaution which, very sympathetically, they did. No drama, anxiety averted, minimal risk of Sidney coming into contact with the Evil Egg. That’s OK.

On the way home, however, the experience couldn’t have been more different.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Tracey, possibly the most sullen and unhelpful air steward I have ever met.

It was a lunchtime flight so the likelihood of nuts being served was greatly increased. I got on, made my habitual polite but pleading little speech about our son having life-threatening allergies to nuts and would they mind very much not serving any to our immediate family and perhaps trying to mitigate the risk where possible.

Tracey shrugged.

I asked again, taking a different tack: did she know if nuts might be served on the flight?

“Yes, we’re serving cashews and almonds. I can’t do anything about that.”

“OK, well our son is potentially anaphylactic. It’s a life-threatening condition. Could you perhaps not serve them to our family and have a quiet word with the seats directly in front and behind?”

Tracey shrugged again.

“Do you understand what anaphylaxis is? It means he could die.” (I could have kicked myself for saying that within Sidney’s earshot but my temper was getting somewhat frayed and, thankfully, he didn’t hear me.)

“Well, what do you do when you go to a restaurant, then?” retorted the lovely Tracey.

We leave, call an ambulance. All those things you can’t do when you’re stuck in a pressurised cabin 30,000ft above land, love. Ask me another one, this time using some common sense.

Tracey shrugged, a smug sort of smile on her face. Tracey likes to shrug. She really is a treasure. Her colleague looked nervous but stayed silent. I noticed the Captain coming out of his cabin so I made my last bid for understanding, once more with feeling: “I’m not asking you to ban nuts from this flight. I know it is BA policy not to make announcements. I have flown many times before and the crew have been accommodating. I am simply asking for you not to serve them to our family and to have a gentle word, perhaps, with those directly beside us. I don’t think you would want to have to divert the plane because my son is having an anaphylactic reaction.”

Tracey shrugged one time more for luck: “I can’t do anything about that.”

Red mist descending I decided to make my shaky retreat to our seats – there was a queue developing – and think about what to do next. Luckily, my sister and her husband were following a short way behind us and overheard the Captain suggesting to our Tracey that perhaps it wouldn’t be unreasonable to make some allowances given the medical situation and our son’s young age (that freaks me out – sometimes I wonder if it’s easier to get sympathy because he’s still so dinky. When he’s 13 and spotty maybe we’ll encounter more dolts like Tracey).

Lo and behold, as the crew prepared for take-off, the Captain made an “off message” announcement that “there is a little boy in row seven who is very allergic to nuts. We can’t ask you not to eat nuts but, as a father, I am asking you to have a little think about that”.

Tracey was over-ruled. Nuts were not served around us. She tried to explain herself to me later in the flight with a lame catalogue of back-covering nonsense: “You never gave me a chance to ask the Captain”; “you were so anxious I couldn’t get a word in”; “it’s up to the Captain not us”; “I was only asking about restaurants out of curiosity”.

So it’s the Captain’s choice, is it? Simply say what other cabin crew have said in the past: “OK, thanks for letting us know, let me talk to the Captain and I’ll see what we can do.”

So you thought I was anxious? (I wasn’t, particularly. I was by about, ooh, her fourth shrug.) Perhaps try to allay my anxiety rather than add to it.

And how has a woman so wilfully ignorant of the implications of severe food allergy been allowed to land a job with BA? Don’t they train them up in basic First Aid? Can they really not include anaphylaxis as part of the training for a job that requires them to serve food in a restricted environment?

BA: “Your safety is our priority.”

Do, please, tell that to Tracey.

3 thoughts on ““Your safety is our priority.” Tell that to Tracey.

  1. Hi Alexa,
    Let’s see if a letter from Dr. B would help the Tracy’s of this world, I will pass this on as we are having a meeting about psychological aspects of food allergies on families very soon as we realise just how difficult it is for you. Thank you so much for this blog, so helpful for Allergists to know what you and hundreds of other families have to endure.

    1. Ah, thanks Katherine… I seem to recall Dr Claudia was compiling patients’ airline experiences with a view to possibly lobbying airlines on their allergy policies… Don’t know if that’s still ongoing but would love to give her my ha’penny worth if it is!

  2. How my heart aches for you. I have given up flying because my daughter thinks I would have a heart attack. Many years ago I appealed to BA to Colin Marshal, who was charming and co-operative and was issued with a free mec medical card listing my difficulties. I had phone numbers to ring prior to flights and a number to request for special food. It was fairly limited and messages did not always get through. My problems were usually announced to the whole plane. I was sprayed with perfume in first class and shouted at by a steward that he could not see any thing wrong with me. For me its my breathing and ears that suffer most We did in the end only travel 1st class to get a little more attention and a modicome of food. On returning from Portugal also, feeling very unwell, I encountered a Tracey whom I nicknamed the Icequeen! Keep fighting, hope this info helps

    Jacquie Broadway xx.

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