October 28, 2015 — As many of you know, airline travel with severe nut allergies is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. My 10-year-old daughter had an airborne reaction to nuts on a plane five years ago. I’ve been working on this issue since then, and needless to say, I’m pleased at the attention this issue is now receiving.
I had some input on the task force which is now spearheading this legislative effort, the Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine (Senate Bill 1972), which calls for the airlines to carry epinephrine auto-injectors on board all flights and flight crew training. These measures, which are desperately needed, will no doubt help save lives. I’m also pleased that this legislation calls for a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that looks at the airlines’ food allergy policies and the incidentce rates of onboard reactions and emergency landings. Policies won’t change until we have this data, and, at present, the airlines aren’t required to give it.
Take note that during the summer of 2014, there were four anaphylactic reactions on board flights during a three month period. How many have we heard about this year? None. Is it possible that there weren’t any reactions on board flights this year? Highly doubtful.
Earlier this spring for example, United Airlines had to make two emergency landings due medical emergencies involving children. I made repeated phone calls to the company to find out the cause of the medical emergencies. Officials were unavailable for comment. Again, the FAA doesn’t require airlines to report the reasons behind their medical emergencies.
Since we don’t have any scientific evidence to indicate risks associated with flying with nut allergies, the only thing we’re left with is anecdotal evidence. This doesn’t carry the weight we need to make our case. As a result, there is no incentive for the airlines to change the way they do things. That’s why it is so important for us to have the GAO report which will force the airlines to release this information.
What I find most disappointing about this legislation is that it doesn’t call for on- board announcements warning about nut allergies. I think it’s a simple request really, but the medical advisory boards of the food allergy organizations won’t support announcements because despite the anecdotal evidence we’re seeing, there’s no perceived scientific evidence. I simply wish a few of them had been on that flight with us five years ago.
We can’t let this issue disappear. When the time comes, and we’ve got more information with which to work with, we’ll move forward with the steps that need to be taken to reduce on-board reactions. At the very least, the next step should be requiring that announcements be made about the potential for serious food allergic reactions. Can’t we all agree that it would be easier to prevent a reaction than to treat one?
Please write your senators and congressmen asking them to support Senate Bill 1972 — it’s a small step in the right direction.
As always, Safe Travels —
On a side note, there are a couple of steps you can take when flying to alert passengers that you’ve got a severe allergy. My daughter came up with her own “Certificate of Appreciation” card that she passes out to other passengers explaining her allergies. I also wear a bright red sash that says “Airborne Nut Allergies – Please Don’t Eat Nuts Around Me” which can be ordered online through the Sash Company.