A woman was thrown off an American Airlines flight for, if you can believe it, having a nut allergy.
That’s right. American Airlines staff allegedly told Sophie Draper, a 26-year-old woman from Durham, that the airline was contractually obliged to serve nuts in business class, and it was against their company policy to make any allergy-related announcements. She was soon after “escorted” off the flight.
Draper tells the story as follows, recently taking to Twitter to share what happened, seeing as the airline did not provide her with, in her view, a satisfactory response to her complaint.
I’ve shared my experience to warn those with nut & other food allergies about @AmericanAir. Their discriminating company policy forbids them making allergy announcements which protect you. Also being told that they contractually HAD to serve nuts in 1st/Business class (15/16)— Sophie Draper (@EnergySoph) February 6, 2022
Draper, who is an electrical engineer, was flying from Heathrow to JFK Airport in New York in December when the incident happened.
Draper describes the incident as follows: “Given @AmericanAir (AA) have still yet to respond to the complaint my partner submitted over a month ago, thought I’d come to Twitter to share my nightmare experience when I was meant to fly with them from @HeathrowAirport to NYC (JFK) at the beginning of December 2021.”
“We tried to inform AA of my life threatening allergy to nuts/peanuts before flying but there is no option to inform them online. At checkin we were told to speak to airline staff at the gate — standard practice with airlines flown with in the past: EasyJet, AirCanada etc.”
“However, this is where things begin to unravel. Firstly, I was met with confused looks by AA gate staff when I told them about my severe allergy. They asked if it would be okay if people around me could still eat nuts (I informed them that my allergy is airborne, so no).”
“To which the member of staff bluntly told us ‘well, they’re not going to stop serving nuts on the aircraft’ and ‘I really doubt that’s gonna happen.’ That said, they agreed to walk us to the plane ahead of the queue to discuss with the pager (lead cabin crew).”
“I believed the pager on the aircraft would understand, after all, it’s hardly a unique situation. Apparently, I was far too optimistic because they were not at all accommodating. They said ‘we are contractually obliged to serve hot mixed nuts in first/business class and ‘it was against company policy’ to make an announcement about any food allergies on the aircraft.”
“I was absolutely stunned that in 2021, with the number of fatal instances from nut allergy surfers flying, that this was their heartless policy.”Sophie Draper
“Then they quickly tried to row back, offering scraps of reassurance including ‘well, we don’t serve peanuts though’ and ‘we don’t serve mixed nuts in Economy’ (not getting the point that I am allergic to tree nuts as well as peanuts) and that the allergy is airborne.”
“When asked about risks from recirculating air in the aircraft and the possibility of a passenger opening a bag of nuts next to me they simply responded ‘we can’t do anything about that.'”
“At this point both my partner and I were getting really concerned at how blasé they were being, leading to him straight-up asking what would happen if I went into anaphylaxis over the Atlantic. After a ‘he knows how to use your epi-pen, right?'”
“We were told in no uncertain terms that our discomfort was, in turn, making them uncomfortable. Without further discussion, they were already on comms getting our luggage was removed from the flight and we were escorted off the plane.”Sophie Draper
Draper then said that she broke down in tears, feeling “totally discriminated against for a health condition I have no control over.”
She added: “Luckily some different AA staff were incredibly sympathetic and walked us to the BA transfer desk to get us reallocated flights.”
She then said the experience with BA was great: “In contrast, on our rescheduled BA flight hours later, the BA staff were fantastic. They stopped serving all nut products, made multiple announcements about there being a passenger with a nut allergy, and personally spoke with all passengers within a number of rows of me.”
“I’ve shared my experience to warn those with nut & other food allergies about @AmericanAir. Their discriminating company policy forbids them making allergy announcements which protect you. Also being told that they contractually HAD to serve nuts in 1st/Business class.”
Her story sparked debate on Twitter, with some showing their sympathy, and others defending the airline.
American airlines: I have chronic back pain and would like to request a full sized sofa to lie on during flights. I will ask your gate crew to accommodate me with no prior notice next time I travel with you— Andy (@Andy36981152) February 14, 2022
One Twitter user wrote: “If your allergy is so severe, why did you casually book tickets online instead of speaking to customer service to make your nut allergy concerns known? Take some responsibility for your lack of action in this supposed situation. You are being way too unrealistic.”
Another commented: “If I’m paying for a first class ticket, I expect warm nuts.”
This is NOT discrimination. Stop using trigger words for your personal agenda. It is not the staffs responsibility to care for your allergy. You chose to fly, it is your job to do the research. And if I’m paying for a first class ticket, I expect warm nuts— Trishelle (@TrishelleC) February 12, 2022
Another put it down to the airline being from Texas.
Well @AmericanAir is a Texas based company. That should tell you something.— cwcooper (@cwcooper) February 9, 2022
Another Twitter user said given how common allergies are, airlines should know how to deal with them.
I have several food allergies and we’ve had a few flights with AA where I didn’t have a full reaction but didn’t feel great after it. With so many options available, I don’t understand why airlines can’t serve an alternative. It’s not like having food allergies is a choice.— Tina Moricz (@MrsMoricz) February 12, 2022
The tale concluded with Draper accusing American Airlines of trying to save face instead of apologising. On February the 8th she wrote: “Despite a quick phone call to find out more information, @AmericanAir have not apologised to me or completed their response to the complaint we made (despite saying they would within a month) so not sure why they are claiming that they have to the press (maybe to save face?).”
Update: AA finally emailed us last night. There is no apology in the statement and no admission of wrongdoing apart from “it appears the situation could have been handled with more sensitivity”. It also has a misleading quote from the lead flight attendant which reverses blame.— Sophie Draper (@EnergySoph) February 8, 2022
Flying in the friendly skies indeed.