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April 18, 2006

Emotional Rollercoaster of Flying on US Airways

source: dailylocal.com

When Greg Robino, 36, of Downingtown, recently decided to take his family on vacation to visit relatives in Texas, his main concern amounted to peanuts. Greg Robino’s son, 4-year-old Nathan, is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, long-known as the traditional mid-flight snack of commercial airlines.

But he and wife, Heather, did their homework. Greg Robino, a software salesman and frequent flier, said a customer service representative assured him that the flight crew could accommodate Nathan by not serving peanuts in the rows around his seat.

On the morning of the March 24 flight, Greg Robino said he was even told that attendants would go the extra step and not serve any peanuts on the flight as a precaution.

"Then the head flight attendant told us that they were required to serve peanuts by company policy. In fact, she used the word required several times. And I just didn’t understand that," he recalled.

The Robinos asked to speak to a customer service representative at Philadelphia International Airport, but they soon learned that the flight crew would not allow Nathan to board the plane anyway, as not to risk an in-flight medical emergency.

"We were on an emotional roller-coaster. We weren’t going to risk our son’s health anyway, and then they concluded that we could not go on even if we wanted to," he said. "My kids were devastated. They had been looking forward to this for months."

Phil Gee, a spokesman for US Airways, said the airline does not differentiate between what snacks are served.

"It’s kind or hit or miss," Gee said. "It depends on where the flight was last catered whether it serves peanuts or pretzels."

He defended the company’s stance, saying there was not a way that any airline could guarantee a peanut-free flight for those with severe food allergies.

"We’ve come to the realization that even if we didn’t serve peanuts we could not guarantee that no one would bring them on board. We would have to search every passenger and sanitize every flight," Gee said. "There may be some airlines today that do not serve peanuts on flights, but no one can guarantee a peanut-free flight."

But the Robinos are not alone. About 1,689,000 Americans have peanut allergies, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).

The same applies to tree nuts, meaning the number of Americans with both is more than 3 million. In addition, children can be particularly vulnerable to food allergies.

There are more than 2 million American children (ages 6 to 18) with food allergies, according to FAAN.

And the prevalence of peanut allergy in children doubled in the five-year period from 1997 to 2002, and the trend shows not sign of stopping.

"Fly at your own risk," is what Kim Easterday, of East Fallowfield, said she was told by US Airways representatives, while planning a May vacation to Walt Disney World for her family.

Kim Easterday’s son, 5-year-old Eddie Jr., is allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts.

"They couldn’t accommodate us. They have finally refunded the airfare. But it is hard to find someone else. There are only peanut-friendly airlines, there are not many peanut-free airlines. And I am concerned about the (peanut) dust," she said.

Kim Easterday said her family has learned to deal with Eddie’s allergies, though it is not easy to be a kid when a peanut-butter cookie can be like a hand-grenade.

"It is hard and I feel bad for him. He cannot eat cake at a birthday party and has to be careful with candy on Halloween," she said. "But I’ve learned to pack a snack ahead of time and we live with it."

Of course, travel does not make the situation any easier.

But the Easterdays are determined to get to Orlando, even if they have to rent a car and drive down, she said.

The Robinos, however, have yet to reschedule their vacation plans.

But Greg Robino said he plans to file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division on the basis that his family was prohibited from boarding due to his son’s peanut allergy, which qualifies as a disability.

According to the FAAN website, www.foodallergy.org, airlines that do not serve peanut snacks include: American, United, Northwest, Jet Blue, Spirit and ATA.

Posted by David at April 18, 2006 7:49 PM


I'm very impressed by your blog...a lot of interesting material to go through. I have a 14y.o. ds who is anaphylactic to milk, eggs, nuts, peanuts and sesame. He's only outgrown a soy allergy and has been "studied" by several doctors as to why he isn't outgrowing anything else. We live a very controlled life. He never eats in restaurants (except with homemade stuff brought by us). Although he is peanut allergic we do fly with him and just use precautions like wiping down his immediate area and checking seat cushions and mag. pockets for peanut debris. We carry onboard all his meds. and he only eats foods we carry on too. So far so good...We have had to argue about his "rights" to carry food into entertainment venues (fairs and concert arenas). Many now have a no-cooler, no-backpack regulations but once we agree to a search and present a doctor's letter we're usually good-to-go...Keep up the work, it's great!

Posted by: Leslie at April 19, 2006 5:25 AM