Gina Clowes of Allergy Moms is frustrated. She purchased 4 tickets on American Airlines and then discovered that the airline has a practice of roasting nuts while in-flight.
Gina called the AA disability help line and requested that they leave off roasting nuts while her family was on board because of her son's severe nut allergy. Roasting nuts releases proteins into the air that have been documented to cause severe allergic reactions, and Gina didn't want to risk her son having a reaction mid-flight. Gina told the airline that it was fine to serve the nuts, just not roast them while the plane was in flight.
Sounds like a reasonable request - yet the response she got from the airline was that they would not alter their practice of roasting nuts, and they would not refund Gina's tickets, which cost $2200.
Clearly this is not great customer service. But is it even legal? The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits discrimination in airline service on the basis of disability. Food allergies are considered a disability when they "substantially limit one or more major life activities." Gina's son's allergies are severe enough that he requires a Section 504 plan at school, indicating that his allergies meet the legal definition of a disability.
Right now, airline policies vary on the type and extent of accommodation they will make for passengers with food allergies. Most airlines only have policies on peanut allergies because of the tradition of serving peanuts as in-flight snacks. If you have a severe allergy to another type of food, there may be no written policy that covers your situation.
What do you think? What are airlines required to do to accommodate their passengers with food allergies? Should airlines ban certain foods in-flight? Should they be required to issue refunds or make alternate travel plans for ticket holders who will not be safe on their planes? What should American Airlines do in this situation?