This week I gave a talk at a major expo at the Taste of Travel Theatre in Germany about how airlines should consider passengers with severe allergies and offer allergen free snacks. My talk was well received.
Not particularly interesting? I don’t suppose it is if you are not someone who has to consider what they eat every single moment of every day – like me.
Eating, smelling or coming into physical contact with an allergen can kill me – and almost has on several occasions. Giving a talk like this is important to me to raise awareness around the major impact being severely allergic can have on a person’s life. People are dying as a result of our lack of care around this.
However what I did not expect – having given that talk and seeing such great responses – was that on trying to board my airplane home a few hours later, I would experience, once again, discrimination myself.
On arriving at the boarding gate of my Eurowings flight, I asked the flight attendant to put out an announcement about my nut allergy, asking other passengers not to have nuts as I’m severely allergic to them.
A staff member then proceeded to shout at me, in front of everyone, saying they did many flights and they could not make such an announcement. Further, when I raised an objection, I was told my request was an infringement of the other passengers’ human rights if they were not allowed to eat nuts.
No mention was made of the human rights of someone who – if exposed to nuts while on a plane – could actually die. What would you rather have the right to eat a nut or the right to live?
I was told I would have to wear a mask – which I didn’t have and they couldn’t and did not offer to provide. Indeed for a moment, it was suggested I would not be able to board the flight I’d paid for to get home.
Humiliated in front of all the other passengers – and made to feel like a complete burden to everyone – I spent the entire flight with my jumper wrapped around my mouth to try to minimise the risks of my being affected by any contact with nuts.
Having lived with severe allergies since being a toddler, I’m still finding myself isolated, singled out and embarrassed by something I cannot help. Believe me no one would choose to have severe food allergies.
On returning home, I asked my colleague and media consultant to help me raise awareness of this incident. The first thing she did was to contact Eurowings and their response sounds like ‘computer says no’.
It’s not ‘practical’ for them to exclude nuts or other airborne allergens – even though other airlines like Easyjet – seem to have no issues with it. Apparently, it’s in their T&Cs buried in the small print. Even more insulting to me they were ‘sorry’ that Ms Ponan ‘felt she’d not been treated well’.
One of those phrases which suggest I’ve somehow had an attack of the vapours – or am a bit nervy.
We’ve asked supplementary questions and, at time of writing, those additional questions have yet to be answered.
The moral of this for me is that I realise I must continue to campaign around the issue of allergy, I truly believe that if people are educated on the seriousness of any airborne allergies they would have enough compassion not to eat that allergen for such a short period of time. It may sound silly but its true smoking has been banned from flights for years and this is an addictive product, i am sure people can do without a few products on board a flight if it could save someones life. Its not like i can get out of a plane, i can understand on the ground you can move away from the allergen but on a plane in such a confined space there is no way of getting out. I must champion those companies who take this seriously and do something about it. Where possible I will use airlines which help people like me – and shout loudly about their support. Equally I will also call out those who deny my basic human rights – the right to life.