Internet stories, especially shockers, can circulate on social media indefinitely. How often have you see a story come around on a friend’s post, and found out later that the event actually happened several months or even years ago? (We’re not talking rumours that turn out to be untrue here, but stories that happened and continue to come around, like the celebrity who dies multiple times in various social media universes.)
This morning, a blog post appeared, detailing the story someone who had sent two unaccompanied teens home aboard a major carrier and then an airline partner flight across the ocean. So says the story, that apparently the kids were bumped from the flight after one disclosed a severe allergy to peanuts and the partner airline decided not to accommodate him. A little bit of research on our faithful internet reveals many stories such as this, from news articles to opinions expressed about such incidents.
As we have branched out to serve a more broad food allergic consumer group, we have been learning about food allergies and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). Succinctly stated by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) on their website (https://www.foodallergy.org), “Under the ADA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, eating and breathing, and affect your heart and circulatory system, eating and your digestive system, breathing and your respiratory system, and more. All of these life activities are at risk for a person with a life-threatening food allergy.”
So, if you have severe food allergies, you’re covered under ADA, right? Not necessarily. Commercial airplanes are exempt from ADA, and covered under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). But what does this mean?
Generally speaking, Department of Transportation does not consider food allergies to be disabilities, though if a food allergy is sufficient to limit a major life activity (such as breathing!), then the allergic person meets the definition of person with disability (ABC News, June 6, 2017, https://abcnews.go.com/US/flying-peanut-allergies-airlines-react/story?id=47795670). The problems seem to really begin with a lack of clarity or continuity in how airline policies and employees, even within airlines, handle severe food allergies. The ACAA does state that airlines may not refuse transportation on the basis of a disability. The Act also states that airlines can exclude a person if having that person on board could compromise the safety of the flight- note this is not the same as the safety of the person with allergies.
Perspectives differ on this issue. The internet sphere abounds with comments from people who claim those with severe allergies should be kicked off flights rather than the other passengers give up their peanuts, while the other end of the spectrum is vocal as well, asking if people can’t just give up one little snack in order to allow someone to travel on a plane?
As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) “food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern” (February 14, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/foodallergies/index.htm.) The issue of how to best accommodate all air travelers is not set to fly off into the wild blue yonder any time soon.