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