British Airways: Discrimination, Lies & The Day They Risked My Life

I’ve held off on writing this for a few weeks as I wanted to see how things progressed with it, but having realised this week that I’m metaphorically banging my head against a brick wall, I decided the time to share this is now.

 

In early October we went on holiday and spent a week in Crete. It was a brilliant, restful week and I loved every second of it. Until the journey home that is. Flying out there we travelled with Easyjet, coming home we flew with British Airways.

 

As I have a nut allergy (for which I have to carry antihistamines and an Epipen with me at all times) whenever I board a plane I tell the cabin crew. On every flight I’ve ever been on before they have then made an announcement over the tannoy that says something like this:

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a passenger on board today with a severe nut allergy so we will not be serving any nut products on this flight. We would request that, if you have brought your own nuts on board today, or any items that contain nuts, you do not open them.”

 

I’ve never had an issue with this. Cabin crew and passengers are respectful and understanding of the fact that a nut allergy is a serious medical condition – it’s not a case of feeling slightly unwell, or getting a stomach ache; a nut allergy can kill.

 

So, there we were, looking forward to flying British Airways for the first time. I board the plane and inform the cabin crew of my allergy, as usual. They take my boarding pass so they know what seat I’m in and I settle down for the 4-hours of soaring in the clouds.

 

Then, the head of the cabin crew comes over to me. The conversation went a little like this…

 

HIM: “Hello madam, I understand you have a nut allergy?”

ME: “Yes”

HIM: “How serious is it?”

ME: “Quite serious; airborne affects me” (meaning if people around me are eating them, just the nut being in the air can cause a reaction)

HIM: “I see. Did you fly out here with us?”

ME: “No, we flew Easyjet”

HIM: “And what did they do?”

ME: “They made an announcement, suspended the sale of nut products and requested passengers don’t eat their own”

HIM: “We don’t do that”

ME: “Pardon?”

HIM: “We don’t do that. We don’t stop people eating nuts if they want to”

ME: “Oh. I react to airborne though”

HIM: “Do you have an Epipen?”

ME: “Yes”

HIM: (patronisingly) “So do I. That means we have two!”

ME: (silence)

HIM: “We served nuts on the plane coming out here so surely if your allergy was that bad you would have had a reaction by now, don’t you think?”

ME: (shocked) “Well… I don’t know…”

HIM: “Well, we will continue to sell nuts on this flight as we don’t want to stop passengers that want to eat nuts from having them. Is that ok?”

ME: “I guess so”

 

I was utterly shocked but as this plane was the only way of getting back to the UK, I didn’t feel I had any choice. Either get off the plane and be stranded in another country, or stay on the plane and hope nobody ate any nuts during the flight.

 

Fast forward to us cruising in the air and the trolley comes around with refreshments. Imagine my dismay when I see the cabin crew handing a complementary packet of nuts to EVERY SINGLE PASSENGER on the flight. They actually tried to hand one to me and Ben. We both, obviously, declined and when Ben said, “She’s got a nut allergy, you know this!” they laughed and said, “What, do you both have one?!” to which Ben replied that no, we don’t both have one but he can’t eat them around me.

 

So they know I have a nut allergy, yet they go out of their way to serve them to every single passenger. How they thought that was ok I have no idea.

 

Within a few minutes my lips started to swell up and my throat began to itch. I can honestly say, being 36,000 feet in the air and feeling the start of an allergy attack was one of the most terrifying things that has ever happened to me. Ben saw my face change and I saw the panic in his expression. I took some antihistamines and prayed it didn’t progress because if it got worse, the chance of me getting to a hospital before it took over my body completely was impossible.

 

Thankfully, this attack proved to be a small one and the antihistamines took the edge off of it, although I could still feel the affects of the airborne nut traces – sore, tingly and swollen lips, a sore and itchy throat, and a shortness of breath.

 

Since this happened, I have had conversations on Twitter with British Airways and they have refused to accept they put me in a position whereby my life was in danger. In fact, the following tweet they sent to another individual very much sums up their overall attitude:

 

IMG_3179

 

So there you have it – they won’t discriminate against passengers who want to eat nuts, but they will discriminate against those who have a life-threatening medical condition.

 

As they showed so little interest in discussing this with me on Twitter I decided to make a formal complaint via their website. At this point, having learnt how little regard they have for their customers, it probably won’t surprise you to know that having received no reply to this I contacted them for an update only to be told that they have ‘lost’ it. How convenient.

 

Following all of this, you can imagine my anger when my attention was drawn to an article in a national newspaper this week in which the question of banning nuts on flights in order to safeguard the lives of those who have an allergy was raised (bearing in mind, there have been cases of individuals with allergies becoming very ill and even dying on flights). The national newspaper contacted British Airways who responded with the following statement:

 

“We do our best to accommodate the needs of all our customers, including those with food allergies. We do not serve peanuts as snacks, or include them in our meals and we do not sell peanuts on board our aircraft. We advise customers with peanut allergies to inform our cabin crew of their condition, and let them know if they are carrying emergency medication. Our crew are happy to ask customers in the vicinity to refrain from eating nut products.”

 

This is an outright lie.

(edit: somebody has just made a very good point to me – in the quote above, BA reference peanuts specifically, so perhaps this statement is less lie, more a clever wording of the truth?)

 

So, British Airways, you put my life in danger, you discriminated against a well-known life-or-death medical condition, you ‘lost’ my complaint and then you lied to the national press about your policies.

 

Having seen your true colours and how little regard you have for the lives of your passengers, I know I will never be flying British Airways again – instead I’ll use an airline who safeguards those who travel with them.

 

UPDATE: Read the second and final instalment of this story – their response.

 

Penny xx

 

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27 Comments

  1. November 15, 2015 / 1:52 pm

    I can quite honestly say, if it came between me having a free bag of nuts and somones life being in danger there would be no question of a doubt I’d happily give up my right to eat nuts, as I’m sure near enough every human on the planet would.

    British Airways should be ashamed.

    • Penny
      Author
      November 17, 2015 / 9:59 am

      Thanks Kelly, that seems to be the general consensus of everyone that has contacted me about this – a few hours without a packet of nuts to potentially save a life isn’t too much of a hardship for most 🙂 xx

  2. Lauren
    November 15, 2015 / 3:12 pm

    It still shocks me that they can justify behaving this way! I would have thought that an airline has a duty of care too every single person that enters their aircraft. I have never flown with British Airways and after reading about this experience, I can safely say I never want to.

    I’m seems to me that they simply do not understand an allergy is not a lifestyle choice, allergies are a serious medical condition which can escalate very quickly and are life threatening.
    Living with an allergy is actually very complex, it’s not just as easy as ready packaging there’s so much more to think about especially when it comes to airborne allergies. An there the cost too! People who don’t have allergies (I’d assume this is the case of the head of the crew you spoke with) no matter how much “first aid” training etc that they have will never truly understand the dangers which is simply not good enough.

    The sheer though of having breathing difficulties at thousands of feet in the air and away from the medical teams in hospital is petrifying. Breathing difficulties are the scariest thing you could ever experience on the ground let alone on a plane.

    For me flying is the most dangerous mode of transport. There’s the risk a food allergy gives but also the risk that the air pressure and quality of the aircraft won’t allow me to breathe properly, the risk I get a seat next to someone who swims in their perfume/aftershave etc or a smoker, the risk of being allergic to the cleaning products they’ve used in the few minutes between swapping in and out bound passengers! all of these things could potentially trigger breathing difficulties. I could list away but that’s not the point.

    I’m totally stunned by the way that they have behaved and can honestly say I never want to put my life in there hands. I would push through on the complaint front no one should have to be put it the life threatening situation you where and they need to know how dangerous there actions where.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Lauren

    • Chris Jones
      November 15, 2015 / 6:39 pm

      BA don’t sell anything on board, it’s all complimentary. People expect free catering and I would be pretty annoyed if BA said no meals today as we have someone with a nut allergy. Let’s be honest your allergy can’t be that bad if you didn’t need to use your epipen if everyone was served nuts!!!

      Think you need to get a grip here, I have flown another airline before who refused to make the PA and gave me the option to get off and rebook.

      Sadly by making the PA the airline accepts liability for you not having a shock….

      I am a nut allergy sufferer and I don’t support your stance on this…

      • Penny
        Author
        November 15, 2015 / 9:13 pm

        I wasn’t asking for no meals to be served at all, I was asking for packets of nuts not to be served. I understand the airline can’t be sure the meals they serve, sandwiches etc don’t have nuts in them, and I know they can’t control the actions of passengers – my issue was the lack of interest and the fact they then went on to give nuts to every single passenger on board (including me). That and BA believing that people’s right to snack is more important than the life of a passenger with an allergy. My reaction wasn’t severe, thank goodness, but a friend of a friend is now in a vegetative state in hospital due to being exposed to nuts in another environment which makes my feelings all the stronger.

        I stand by my belief that policies need to be adapted to safeguard those that do have a life-threatening allergy.

        • November 17, 2015 / 5:16 pm

          I am so with you on this that comment was not called for, I do think that Chris needs to get a grip not you policies need to be adapted to safeguard those that do have a life-threatening allergy

          • Penny
            Author
            November 20, 2015 / 1:34 pm

            Thank you for the support Jacqui 🙂 xx

    • Penny
      Author
      November 17, 2015 / 9:58 am

      Hi Lauren, thanks for your comment. I think there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding out there about allergies, but hopefully a change can be made to BA’s policy. Here’s hoping! xx

  3. Adam
    November 15, 2015 / 5:07 pm

    In writing this, I’m trying to not be the usual trolling contrarian typical in many comment threads, but based on what you’ve written I have a certain amount of sympathy for the airline (albeit the head steward sounded very passive-aggressive and unsupportive, based on your account).

    I guess my main question is did you inform the airline of your severe allergy at any point prior to boarding the plane? The way you’ve written your account makes it sound like you kept that potentially life-threatening detail to yourself until you spoke to the cabin crew on entry, by which point they would already have completed restocking their supplies and wouldn’t have time to replace the offending snacks, never mind thoroughly vacuum the cabin to ensure no traces of dust were still in the air from the previous flight. In fact, given how risk averse many big corporations are these days, I wonder whether BA would have even accepted you on board if they had prior warning of the severity of your allergy, as it might not be financially viable to let someone fly whose condition might require a deep clean of the entire plane to ensure the airline is not legally liable for any reaction that might occur in the air.

    As for the decision to not stop serving once they were informed of your allergy: I’ve not flown short-haul with BA but I presume they only have a limited amount of snack food stock on board (given that they’re trying to compete with the no-frills budget airlines), so if the crew find out with zero notice that one customer objects to nut products and they didn’t have enough non-nut-based snacks to go around, then they would have to weigh up the consequences of not serving anything and having all the other customers complain about substandard catering options. Obviously a single passenger’s health should outweigh all the other passengers going hungry, but depending on how you phrased the request might have influenced whether the steward thought you were exaggerating or making an unreasonable demand, especially if that steward had (minor) allergies themselves that influenced their judgement.

    Anyway, like I said before, not trying to be a troll, just pointing out that based on the way you’ve written it, it does kind of sound like that on both this and other flights previously you’ve asked cabin crew to accommodate your medical issue with little or no warning, when it seems it could be so serious that you should be communicating with the airline well in advance in order to decide whether you should even be travelling in an enclosed pressurised space at all.

    • Penny
      Author
      November 15, 2015 / 5:19 pm

      Hi Adam, thanks for your comment – I don’t take it as trolling at all, it’s an important subject so to discuss all aspects is important!

      On booking flights previously I have contacted airlines (both using the booking form notes section when it’s a flight with meals and by contacting customer services too) and have always been told they don’t need to know in advance and can’t make a note of it so they ask that I inform staff upon boarding so they can then restrict the sale/serving of nuts.

      Every other airline I have broached the subject with can and do make ‘on the spot’ alterations to their services when a passenger boards and tells them of their allergy. I could understand – and do understand – they couldn’t change main meals or have any control over other passengers eating their own products, and have always conveyed this to airlines I’ve flown with, but I found it hard to swallow (excuse the pun!) their lack of interest/care and then serving nuts to every passenger!

      The subsequent customer service response I’ve had since then and their “we can’t discriminate against passengers who want to eat nuts” attitude along with their refusal to suspend nuts on flights when someone with an allergy flies is what has bothered me the most. I absolutely don’t want any kind of compensation from BA, what I want is a change to their policies to bring them in line with other airlines.

      Again, thank you for commenting!

  4. Amy CT
    November 15, 2015 / 8:33 pm

    Penny, wow, this is awful. As someone with coeliac disease, I’m used to my medical condition not being taken seriously on flights (or elsewhere), and I always bring my own food on board as they can usually only serve me a “low gluten meal” which is very definitely different from a “gluten free meal”.

    But this is different: I only react if I swallow (or touch, on severe occasions – weird but true) gluten, and my symptoms, though severe, are not life-threatening.

    The fact that BA felt that your allergy was enough of an “inconvenience” (as I’m sure this is what they thought) to keep serving nuts is a fucking joke. As awful as this sounds, I’d almost expect this from Ryan Air or Easy Jet, but BA?!

    I hope they finally admit what they did and change their policies.

    • Penny
      Author
      November 17, 2015 / 9:58 am

      Wow Amy, I never knew that a gluten intolerance could be sparked by even touching it! I guess even I have some things to learn when it comes to allergies! Fingers crossed BA will now look at their policies and make some adjustments, but I’m going to continue to fight for it xx

  5. Ashley
    November 16, 2015 / 12:41 am

    Regarding their public statement you quoted, where they specifically say they don’t serve PEANUTS on board.. . Are you sure they were serving peanuts and not some other nuts?

    I’m a BA gold member (meaning I’ve flown with them A TON) and they’ve never served peanuts. They serve a variety pack of other nuts (almonds, cashews, etc).

    Just pointing out that maybe their statement wasn’t a blatant lie if they specifically say they don’t serve peanuts on board. 🙂

  6. ruthholroyd
    November 16, 2015 / 2:25 pm

    I am actually speechless about this. I’ve never had a problem on any flight but not sure that i have flown BA for years and years. We usually fly EasyJet but very rarely fly as I’m so scared of eating in other countries with my allergies. I’m getting braver but this kind of thing is just ridiculous. She was actually making fun of you. And to then serve your husband nuts and ask if you both have an allergy? I think it sounds more like the staff on that flight were discriminating. Surely they cannot condone this as suitable way to treat any customer? I’m so shocked.

    • Penny
      Author
      November 17, 2015 / 9:56 am

      Thanks for your comment – I was really surprised as well, it wasn’t what I expected at all. I’m hoping BA will respond to me at some point and will keep everyone up to date on here xx

  7. Georgie
    November 16, 2015 / 10:01 pm

    Hi Penny,
    Can’t believe what a mixed response this is creating.
    How is it that a life threatening allergy, which you did not ask for, results in you being treated like this. Nobody should have to put up with being treated like, their condition, whatever it may be, is insignificant. They should have shown an understanding of how serious your allergy is and how quickly a life can be damaged or lost. Surely BA have a duty of care to their passengers, that includes looking after them, and doing what is best and right for all concerned, especially the sufferer. Nuts are not essential for passengers, but breathing is. On the negative side, what would they have done if you had had an extreme reaction. Makes you wonder how they would have dealt with it and the lies they could have told. #coverup #notourfault. What other conditions do they NOT take seriously!
    Take care 🙂

    • Penny
      Author
      November 17, 2015 / 9:55 am

      Thanks Georgie – I guess there’s always going to be people sitting on either side of the fence on topics, so it was bound to cause a little bit of a discussion I suppose! Your support means a lot though, knowing there are people who agree a change needs to be made makes me feel stronger 🙂 xx

  8. Laura
    November 20, 2015 / 10:59 am

    Hi Penny,

    I’m so sorry to hear about this horrible experience you had on a BA flight. I also have a serious nut allergy, although I’ve been very lucky to have recently overcome my allergies to cashews, almonds and brazil nuts, which has definitely made life a bit easier. However I’m still seriously allergic to peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. Easyjet have always been extremely accommodating when I have travelled with them and have no issue with making an announcement.

    However, I travelled alone on a BA flight about 9 years ago and was in a similar position to you. When I boarded the plane I informed the air hostess about my nut allergy and politely asked her to make an announcement on the tannoy so that other passengers were aware of it, and asked her if they could refrain from serving nuts during the flight. Luckily for me they were not serving nuts on that flight, but she point-blank refused to make an announcement and made me feel extremely uncomfortable. She told me if my nut allergy was that serious I should not be flying. She then communicated on an internal phone with an air hostess further down the plane and rolled her eyes as she told her about me, and I heard her say again that she thought I should not be flying. I was only 18 at the time and was truly shocked by the way they treated me. She was patronizing, unsympathetic and made me feel as though I should feel guilty for having been born with a serious condition which may occasionally inconvenience other people who want to eat salty snacks.

    In the end she agreed to speak to the passengers in the rows in front and behind me and asked them not to consume any nuts they may have brought on board. All those passengers were extremely understanding, and I have always found other passengers to be so. It is the staff on British Airways who seem to have zero understanding or compassion for those with nut allergies. I suspect if any of those staff had children or family members with nut allergies they wouldn’t find it so easy to dismiss someone who has to live with the fear of dying from accidentally coming into contact with or eating nuts. I cannot imagine how awful it was for you to deal with staff handing out nuts to every single passenger – including you! – after you had already had that conversation with them, and having to spend the rest of the flight breathing into a scarf or jumper feeling terrified.

    Unfortunately I can also relate the snide remarks that you endured of ‘Well we’ve already served nuts on the plane so wouldn’t you be having a reaction already?’ (as if you are trying to fool them and they are trying to trip you up), and mocking your boyfriend for refusing nuts as if he’s pretending to have an allergy to back you up. It is such nonsense.

    I find it remarkable that those of us with nut allergies (and there are many millions of us throughout the world) are still having to fight this battle. How about British Airways serve pretzels, crisps or crackers? These are also cheap, if not cheaper than nuts. The attitude of British Airways staff to people with nut allergies is truly outdated and shameful.

    • Penny
      Author
      November 20, 2015 / 1:33 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear you had a similar experience to mine, it’s awful isn’t it? My hope is that BA will change their policies and instead offer alternative snacks where they are required due to passenger allergies. Time will tell… xx

      • Laura
        November 20, 2015 / 3:05 pm

        Thanks Penny.

        Also sorry I’ve noticed a typo in my first paragraph, it should have said ‘overcome my allergies to cashews, pistachios and brazil nuts’. Almonds still a serious problem unfortunately!

  9. 25castleson25clouds
    November 24, 2015 / 12:10 pm

    I am beyond shocked! Not only by what you experienced but by their reaction to it afterwards – this is not good enough. They should be told! I am all for starting a petition or something!

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