Jessica’s Travel Experience
In our efforts on behalf of the general public to educate and campaign for a world with less worries for those with serious allergies, we are still collecting information about personal travel experiences, in relation to our #NutBan campaign.
In light of this, Jessica Taylor, a schoolteacher in Dubai who lives with a nut allergy has shared a detailed letter with us, which was sent to British Airways after she was distressingly offloaded from two separate flights. Jessica finally arrived back in Dubai, two days late for the start of the new term via a stress-free flight with Virgin Atlantic.
We receive many accounts of personal travel experiences, both good and bad, and any that we share are not necessarily expressing our personal views or the consensus of the majority, however, your knowledge helps us and The Department for Transport in painting a clearer picture of the progress and/or decline over time in allergy awareness on particular airlines and routes.
Listen to an abridged version of Jessica’s letter below
Jessica’s original letter
I have chosen to fly with British Airways over the last four years on the same return flight route between the UK and Dubai, this is because of the many positive and reassuring experiences I have had with you. I am from the UK but work as a Primary School Teacher in Dubai. I choose to fly with BA, as in February 2016 you changed your policy to make nut announcements on board flights. This has been very reassuring to me and has given me great confidence to fly with you in recent years. This is due to the fact that I have anaphylaxis, a severe and life-threatening allergy to nuts, some of which are airborne. I am very understanding that no airline can ever guarantee a nut- free flight, but the fact that you make the following announcement onboard before departure, has been the reason I fly with you frequently. “We have a passenger on board today’s flight who has an airborne nut allergy, therefore we will not be serving nuts on today’s flight and we ask you to please refrain from eating any nut-based products you may have bought onboard with you. We thank you for your co-operation and understanding.”
On Friday 4th January I checked in at 15.00 for my flight to Heathrow from Manchester Airport (to then board my flight from Heathrow to Dubai at 21:35)
On arrival at the check in desk at Manchester, as I always do, I informed the staff of my airborne nut allergy, asking them to inform the cabin crew on both flights of the severity of my allergy. I was assured that this had been submitted via the computer system and the crew would know in advance before I boarded the aircraft. As I have flown with BA so often I am a blue membership holder and have been assured by staff that the details of my allergy are also in my passenger information. At check in, again as I always do, I also asked if there would be any nuts in the catering on either of today’s flights to which I was told there wasn’t.
I boarded my flight to Heathrow and had no problems. I asked the cabin crew manager to make the nut announcement, to which she replied that she already knew about my allergy and that the M&S nut-based products onboard would not be sold on the flight.
I arrived at Heathrow and waited in the lounge to board the 21:35 flight to Dubai. When the gate number was shown I headed to the gate and immediately asked if I could board, as always, this is due to sanitising my seat and surrounding area. Upon boarding, I met the cabin crew manager to make myself known as the passenger with anaphylaxis. The cabin crew manager told me that this was the first time she heard that there was a
passenger on board this flight with a nut allergy. I asked her if she had received my information from the staff at Manchester or if she had read about it in my passenger details, which she told me she had not. As my information had not been passed on to the crew I was feeling nervous, but the cabin crew manager assured me that she would make the nut announcement once the doors were closed and before departure. Before finding my seat on the aircraft I stressed the severity of my allergy to her and that it was airborne. I asked her if any nuts would be served in any of the cabins on the flight. I explained that if any nuts were to be served this could potentially affect me, as nut particles would be re-cycled around the cabin due to the onboard AC system. The cabin crew manager again re-assured me that no nuts would be served in any cabin on the flight, pretzels/crisps would be given with drinks instead of nuts. She told me that they could not guarantee a nut-free flight but that no nuts would be served. She said she would make a PA announcement to tell all passengers this and to also ask them to refrain from eating their own nut- based snacks. I felt very re-assured by her confident response and took my seat in world traveller-plus cabin. As I sat in my seat the clear following announcement was made on the PA system,
“We have a passenger on board today’s flight who has an airborne nut allergy, therefore we will not be serving nuts on today’s flight and we ask you to please refrain from eating any nut-based products you may have bought onboard with you. We thank you for your co-operation and understanding.”
All passengers were then onboard and the flight was preparing to move towards the runway. I was handed a menu by a member of cabin crew and was completely shocked to read what was going to be served, after moments earlier being assured that no nuts would be served on the flight. A main option of ‘Arabic spiced roasted neck of lamb, pomegranate sauce, pistachio and pine nuts, kouzi rice, green bean tomato stew.’ In the desert section of the menu the options were ‘Raspberry and almond slice’ or ‘Chocolate and walnut brownie’.
I immediately told a member of the cabin crew that I needed to speak to the cabin crew manager. I waited for 10 minutes in my seat with no response, so I walked to the front of the aircraft. I was asked to take my seat as we would very soon be departing but I told her it was an emergency. I showed her the menu and asked her are these the meals you are serving today? As I was told that no nuts would be served and you have just made a PA announcement to the whole aircraft saying no nuts will be served. The cabin crew manager asked for the menu and asked me to wait. I waited for 25 minutes and then walked towards the cockpit where I knew it was being discussed. The cabin crew manager came out from the room and asked me how serious my allergy
was. I repeated again what I had previously told her about the severity of an airborne allergy. The time was now after when the flight should have departed so I was becoming very concerned. After further discussions between herself and the pilot they both came out of the cockpit and told me it was impossible to not serve any of the nuts on the menu for the flight. I was very confused by this, as she had earlier reassured that no nuts would be served to any passengers on the flight, which was then confirmed by the PA announcement. I asked if anything at all could be done to help me. They replied that it was my decision if I chose to fly or not. I felt extremely frustrated and upset by the contradicting and incorrect information I had been given (both at Manchester Airport and by the cabin crew) I told them yet again how severe my airborne allergy is and that I could not fly if they served this menu. I was then told that the only thing they could do would be to offload me from the flight and support me with the next available one. I was then off loaded from the flight and greeted by a customer service manager.
In the Airport the customer service manager told me he would board me on the next flight the following afternoon at 12:35. I told him how important it was to ensure that that same menu was not served, or if it was possible, to not serve the Arabic lamb dish and serve a different option in its place. He rang the catering company but could not get through so left a message for them and for the customer service manager who would be working the next day. My boarding pass was printed along with a hotel voucher for the evening. The customer service manager then left and assured me that notes had been made in the system for tomorrow’s flight. I then went to collect my suitcase from another terminal, which had successfully been offloaded. I waited at the carousel for one hour but there was no sign of my suitcase. The time was now 1:00 so I asked a member of night staff for assistance. After making a phone call he informed me that my suitcase had been left at the gate and that there was no way of getting it back this evening. This was due to the baggage handlers and the licensed drivers for the buggies had all gone home. I was given an overnight pack and went to the hotel. I was extremely distressed at what had happened on the flight and made the decision to get up very early the next morning. This was so I could talk to BA staff and ensure that the next flight was going to be safe for me to board.
On Saturday 6th January, I left the hotel and arrived at the Airport four hours before the flight departure time. On arrival at the check in desks at Terminal 5, I asked to speak to a manager. A manager came over and I explained in detail what had happened the previous day. She assured me that she would do her very best to ensure this experience would not happen again and she told me she had already been made aware of the situation. After much
discussion and many staff telephone calls over one hour, the manager told me that the menu had not changed and that there had been mis-communication from the previous day. I was then told that the plane does carry enough chicken meals to serve all passengers, so it could be a possibility that the Arabic nut dish could not be served. The manager told me she had discussed this possibility with the staff by the gate. So I checked in to the flight with the assurance that the Arabic nut dishes could be replaced by the chicken meals. The manager fast tracked me through security and I quickly made my way to the gate to board the plane. Upon boarding, as always, I spoke to the cabin crew manager straight away. I told her I was the passenger with the airborne nut allergy and she said she had already been informed about me. She held papers in her hand, which she told me, contained a dialogue of many emails that she had received during the night, detailing the events of the day before. She told me not to worry as they will not be serving any nuts onboard and she will make a very clear PA announcement. I asked her what had happened with the Arabic nut meal so I could check that it would not be served. She told me she had not received any information about the menu being a problem for me. I was in complete disbelief as this was the whole reason I had to be off loaded from a flight the previous day. The cabin crew manager read her emails again in front of me and said there was no mention of the food on the menu. She told me that the dialogue read that I was off loaded due to me not being comfortable with the PA announcement given. Again, I was in complete disbelief about how badly the whole of this serious issue had been mis-communicated.
I told the cabin crew manager that one hour earlier I had been assured that they carried enough chicken meals to not serve the Arabic nut dish. The cabin crew manager, to my surprise, was shocked at this as she then proceeded to tell me that this was incorrect. She told me they would definitely have to serve both dishes or there would not be enough food for all the passengers to eat. At this point, I was very much aware that the flight was fully boarded and that they should have been in preparation for heading to the runway. At this point, the pilot came out from the cockpit and asked what the problem was as I was holding up the flight. I briefly told him the situation and that I was told I could board this second flight, as precautionary steps had been put in place regarding the menu, making it safe for me to fly. The pilot told me I had been given incorrect information and that there was no way I could fly on the flight. He told me that I should have given the crew/staff 4 hours notice for them to accommodate me and alter the catering. I could not believe what I was hearing from the pilot, as I had not only given them 4 hours notice I had given staff over 24 hours notice (through ringing BA, them having my passenger details and informing staff at Manchester Airport the previous day) I asked the pilot how could mis-communication of this scale have happened when it is such a serious, life-threatening situation. His blunt and simple
response was that he had “no idea”. He told me “Life must be difficult with such a rare allergy but there was no point standing discussing it now by ‘going round in circles’ as the flight was now late and passengers were going to miss their connections.” I was in complete shock and I was quickly guided to the door and off loaded from the flight. As I was stepping off the plane onto the gangway the cabin crew manager came to the door and said “I am so sorry, I don’t know how this information wasn’t passed onto me, I really am so sorry.” The pilot was stood behind her and told her to close the doors.
After being off loaded I was greeted by two customer service managers (different people from the previous day) They asked me to tell them in detail what had happened so I told them everything, starting from the flight I was off loaded from the day before. After I had finished speaking, the male customer service manager told me I had caused huge delays to two flights and cost the company money. I could not believe I was being told that this traumatic experience was my fault. He asked me why did I board the flight if I knew they were serving nuts. This was an incredibly unfair and frustrating question, as I had been assured by many members of staff that nuts would not be served (from check in staff, floor managers and from the cabin crew themselves, both in person and by PA announcement) The male customer service manager told me that my allergy is asking for something impossible to be done. He told me he doesn’t know where the accommodating of allergies will stop. He said “You are allergic to nuts and you are asking us to go above and beyond for you so we can not help you any further. What is going to happen next on another flight? Will someone be allergic to fruit so we cannot serve fruit? Or will someone be allergic to water so we can not give passengers anything to drink?” This comment was so very deeply offensive and discriminating against allergy sufferers like myself. It shows that your staff does not understand the term anaphylaxis or what a life-threatening nut allergy is. It is clear that they are not all aware of its potential fatal outcome if an allergy sufferer is exposed to their allergen.
I had no response to give the customer service manager, I was so very hurt and upset by his words that I did not have a response to give. I asked him where I should go from here and how could I get back to work in Dubai. He told me that BA could not help me any further and that I could not fly back to Dubai with the company, as the same menu would be served for months to come and it could not be altered to meet my needs.
I had to then collect my off loaded luggage from this second flight and try and research and find another airline that could accommodate me. After 6 hours at different terminals in Heathrow I found an airline that I could fly with. They showed me the menu in advance of the flight, they made a PA announcement and they swapped a breakfast bar that had nuts in to yoghurt
for all passengers. Again, I know this could not be a guaranteed nut-free flight, but all staff had an in depth understanding of anaphylaxis. Information about my allergy and its severity was immediately sent to the cabin crew in advance, who produced a detailed allergen list of all the food that would be served on the flight. This airline company really tried their best to accommodate me and to ensure I had a safe flight. Being reassured by their in depth knowledge and positivity, I checked in and had a safe and stress free flight with Virgin Atlantic back to Dubai the following evening.
As I was off loaded from two of your flights, on arrival in Dubai I was two days late for work and have explained the reasons why, in detail to my employer.
Now you are aware of my recent experience with British Airways, I would like you to consider the serious points below. I would very much appreciate a personal response to this letter. I am sure you will agree, a generic response would not be acceptable after I have been through such a traumatic experience and was put in a potentially life threatening situation on your flight.
How is it possible that the nut announcement you make states that you will not be serving nuts, yet the menu to Dubai from Heathrow contained four different types of nuts? You asked passengers to refrain from eating nut-based products on board, yet you were serving them to them during the flight? This even caused other passengers around me to be alarmed and confused by the contradiction.
How can there have been so much mis-communication after the first off loaded flight that I was then allowed to board the second flight? Staff must have known that nothing had changed or been put into place?
If I had been sitting in economy class, I would not have received a menu. This means I would definitely not have questioned the menu as I was reassured that no nuts would be served (both personally and by the PA announcement) Therefore, I would not have got out of my seat and the plane would have departed. I would have had no knowledge that the nut dishes would then have been served throughout the cabins, exposing the allergens into the air. This could have caused me to go into anaphylactic shock on the aircraft and I would have been put in a possibly life threatening situation.
I would like to end this letter by saying that I feel so incredibly thankful that due to my own diligence, I found out that I had been given incorrect information. I was able to inform crew and due to mis-communication on BA’s part, I sadly had to depart the aircraft. If I had been given the correct information from the start that the flight was going to serve nuts, then I would never have boarded the aircraft; it is the fact that I was reassured there would not be which is why with confidence I boarded the flight.
Please consider the outcome that if I had not read that menu myself, the plane would have departed and I could have gone into a life-threatening anaphylactic shock mid flight. I hope you realise the seriousness of the content of this letter, as the situation could have been so very different with unimaginable and possibly tragic consequences.
Life for a child or an adult with anaphylaxis is always full of daily challenges and potential risks. I am a confident person who has worked and flown all over the world despite having anaphylaxis. The experience I have had with British Airways has been the worst I have ever encountered. It has been demoralising and members of staff at British Airways have quite frankly completely knocked my confidence and caused me severe anxiety. I feel I must share this negative experience to help other anaphylaxis sufferers.
I await your personal response. Yours Faithfully,