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Southwest Airlines bans peanuts — see how other airlines handle allergies

Sitting along with her husband and four children on a Southwest Airlines flight this past March, Chelsia Calvert encountered many moms’ worst nightmare.

As her family slept beside her, tired from attending a family wedding ceremony in South Carolina, she watched as flight attendants passed out baggage of peanuts to fellow passengers in the rows ahead of her. Minutes later, her then-9-year-old son Christian started breaking out in hives.

Calvert’s son has life-threatening allergic reactions to peanuts and tree nuts, in addition to a much less serious allergic reaction to shellfish. Prior to boarding her flight from Atlanta to Houston, Calvert had taken every step conceivable to offer protection to her son: She made word of his allergic reaction when booking her tickets, made follow-up calls to remind Southwest LUV, -1.11% of his allergic reaction, and informed the on-ground and in-flight crew when she arrived on the airport.

“They still made the error of handing out peanuts,” Calvert said. “It was once the scariest factor I've ever experienced.”

Soon after Christian started reacting, Calvert found herself the use of an EpiPen, the tool which administers epinephrine to reduce the indicators of a serious hypersensitive reaction. It was once the primary time she had needed to use the EpiPen on her son since she first discovered how serious Christian’s allergic reaction was once when he was once two years previous.

Photo courtesy of Chelsia Calvert
Chelsia Calvert (center center) experienced many mother’s worst nightmare when her son Christian (center left) had a life-threatening hypersensitive reaction to peanuts on a Southwest Airlines flight.

Though he survived the incident, Christian has since developed an apprehension of touring by way of aircraft. When the time came to make the yearly consult with to family in Atlanta this summer, the Calverts opted for a 12-hour force as an alternative of flying. “He doesn’t wish to come with reference to a aircraft,” Calvert said of her son. “He’s coping with high anxiousness.”

Thanks to a brand new policy exchange, different households with peanut allergic reactions are a ways much less more likely to undergo what the Calverts persevered. Southwest Airlines introduced Monday that starting Aug. 1 it is going to now not serve peanuts on any of its flights.

“Our ultimate function is to create an environment the place all shoppers — together with those with peanut-related allergic reactions — feel secure and welcome on every Southwest flight,” the company said in a statement.

The move was once met with party by way of food-allergy advocates who've lengthy been pushing for airlines to undertake insurance policies that protect passengers with serious allergic reactions. Indeed, Southwest Airlines was once the primary to start out serving peanuts on its flights back in 1970, in line with the National Peanut Board.

The National Peanut Board said it was once disillusioned by way of Southwest’s decision, calling it “an useless step that will disappoint many of Southwest’s shoppers.”

Others disagree. “It’s forward-thinking of them,” said Lianne Mandelbaum, founder of the food-allergy advocacy website No Nut Traveler. “This is a step in the suitable path, nevertheless it’s only a step.”

Food allergic reactions are becoming a larger public health fear

Today, it is estimated that as much as 15 million Americans have meals allergic reactions, in line with Food Allergy Research and Education, the sector’s largest nonprofit group dedicated to meals allergic reaction awareness. Of those 15 million folks, nearly 6 million are children.

The choice of folks with meals allergic reactions is rising. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that meals allergic reactions become 50% extra prevalent in children between 1997 and 2011. Today, one in 13 children has no less than one meals allergic reaction, and 30% of those children are allergic to a couple of meals.

And extra folks’s lives are being put at risk as a result of their allergic reactions. The choice of emergency room visits among children as a result of anaphylaxis, a life-threatening hypersensitive reaction, jumped 150% between 2010 and 2016, in line with a report launched in March by way of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Passengers with meals allergic reactions must grapple with differing insurance policies

While Southwest’s policy exchange is welcome information to these with meals allergic reactions, it doesn’t address the broader issues of those passengers.

No main U.S. airline promises an allergen-free flight. Passengers are allowed to deliver meals on any flight, so there’s no approach to totally prevent allergens from coming onboard and putting anyone with meals allergic reactions at risk.

It’s the Wild West for folks with meals allergic reactions, thanks to a loss of laws relating to how airlines must accommodate passengers with allergic reactions. “Too ceaselessly, passengers with meals allergic reactions receive inconsistent and conflicting information from airline team of workers as they book, take a look at in and board,” said Lisa Gable, leader government of Food Allergy Research & Education, a nonprofit group founded in McLean, Va.

Also see: What occurs when there’s a medical emergency onboard a flight

Every airline’s policy on meals allergic reactions is different. Some airlines will provide special accommodations for passengers with allergic reactions. JetBlue Airways JBLU, -0.36%   allows folks with meals allergic reactions to board early to wipe down their seat and tray desk. Additionally, the airline will provide a buffer zone around the food-allergic passenger, and passengers seated in that area might be asked not to consume the allergen. Airline crew will also notify the remainder of the aircraft of the allergic reaction and chorus from serving snacks that contain that allergen.

Those insurance policies have made JetBlue a most popular airline among folks with allergic reactions, together with Alexander Kaufman, a New York-based 25-year-old public relations specialist who's allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. “I do know there are certain airlines I will’t pass on, and I exploit those I’m happy with,” Kaufman said. “My allergic reactions for sure pose a fight in the case of travel.”

Other airlines, together with American Airlines AAL, -Eight.00%  and Frontier Airlines FRNT, +0.00% don't provide special accommodations for passengers with nut allergic reactions, in line with their web pages. A spokeswoman for American Airlines told MarketWatch that, in very uncommon circumstances, the company’s floor team of workers may make a decision not to permit a passenger on the aircraft if there's fear concerning the severity of that particular person’s allergic reaction.

Frontier’s website states: “Frontier Airlines can't ensure an allergen-free surroundings on its flights. We also can't prevent passengers from bringing merchandise containing nuts or different allergens (e.g. carrier animals) onboard our flights.” (Frontier Airlines didn't reply to request for remark.)

Airlines for America, a trade group that represents the main air carriers in the U.S., declined to comment on particular person airlines’ insurance policies, but recommended shoppers fascinated about meals allergic reactions to “change into familiar with the person insurance policies of the airline before taking [a] flight.”

Read extra: There’s a shortage of U.S. EpiPens and different hypersensitive reaction treatments

Some lodge to protecting their seats with fitted sheets

Some folks with meals allergic reactions take additional steps to offer protection to themselves, especially as a result of planes can't at all times be totally cleaned between flights. Lizzie Reynolds, a travel agent whose daughter has serious dairy, peanut and tree nut allergic reactions, notifies gate brokers and flight attendants of her daughter’s allergic reactions. She then boards when flight team of workers name for people who need overtime.

During that point, she covers her daughter’s seat with a fitted sheet. Then, she uses pre-moistened wipes to wash arm rests, tray desk, window and window shade. Her daughter wears lengthy pants and lengthy sleeves when flying to avoid pores and skin touch and brings her personal snacks to consume during the flight. When she leaves the aircraft, Reynolds places the sheet and different cleansing items in a plastic rubbish bag.

Lizzie Reynolds’ daughter is pictured here sitting on a aircraft in a seat that Reynolds painstakingly cleaned and lined in a sheet as a result of her daughter’s serious meals allergic reactions.
Not all airlines lift epinephrine auto-injectors

Another area the place airlines differ: epinephrine. Typically, airlines will equip their on-plane emergency medical kits with the medication. But many airlines most effective have it in a vial, that means it must be administered with a syringe. Flight attendants are ceaselessly no longer allowed to administer the medication unless they have medical coaching. In those cases, the flight crew will need to depend on passengers with medical backgrounds to administer the medication.

As a solution, some airlines — together with JetBlue, United UAL, -Three.35% Alaska ALK, -Three.58% and British Airways IAG, -0.92%  — have equipped their plans with epinephrine auto-injectors like the EpiPen MYL, -1.66% These devices are much more straightforward to use than a syringe and require much less coaching.

Don’t pass over: FAA declines to place a stop to the ‘fantastic shrinking airline seat’

Having fewer airlines to choose from as a result of those and different insurance policies doesn’t just make booking a go back and forth tougher for folks with meals allergic reactions though — it also makes it dearer. “Food allergic reaction shoppers are not searching for the most productive fare necessarily, they’re searching for appreciate,” Mandelbaum said.

Passengers with meals allergic reactions say the airline industry could pass even further to accommodate their wishes. Reynolds envisions a long term the place airlines most effective permit snacks which might be free of the “best 8” most commonplace allergens: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish — or don’t serve meals in any respect.

Reynolds does no longer consider that allergen-free flights are far-fetched. “Remember smoking on planes?” she said. “No one would dream of doing that now.”

Jacob Passy is a personal-finance reporter for MarketWatch and is founded in New York.

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