The true cost of nut allergies on-board a flight

You’ve called in advance, made the airline aware of your nut allergy and now you’re sat on board as the flight takes off. There is an announcement made over the plane tannoy that this a nut-free flight and everything seems to be going smoothly. Then you hear a rustle a number of seats away and you see a passenger has ignored the announcement and has started eating a bag of peanuts. You panic and call the attendant who asks them to put the bag away. You know it’s too late, you’re now at risk of an attack and there’s no way to avoid the recycled air.

This scenario is not uncommon, around 1 in 100 people are allergic to peanuts and when you’re reliant on the compliance of a plane full of passengers and staff, it can be difficult to remain in control. In 2014 a four-year-old girl went into anaphylactic shock and lost consciousness after a passenger ignored three requests made by the flight attendants to avoid eating nuts on board. In the same year, a woman named Amy May took one bite of food at a restaurant in Budapest and suffered a catastrophic allergic reaction, with life-changing consequences. The implications of a nut allergy can be extremely severe and affect every choice made by a sufferer. The Amy May Trust has since petitioned to ban the sale of nuts on board airlines and to give stewards the right to inform passengers they are not at liberty to consume them during the flight.

What are the regulations?
There are no current regulations surrounding nuts being served as snacks on flights. If you call the airline in advance to inform them of your allergy, they may offer to provide a nut-free flight, meaning there would be no nuts served on board and they would request that passengers do not eat their own nut-based snacks on the plane. However, this is not a legal requirement and neither the airline nor the passenger would be liable if a passenger decided to ignore the request. This means that a fully nut-free flight can never be guaranteed.

Allergy UK questioned if a nut-ban would ever be a viable option as even if all precautions are taken and adhered to, sufferers with high intolerance to nuts can suffer a reaction even if a fellow passenger has come into contact with nuts before the flight and then touched any surfaces the allergy sufferer comes into contact with. Therefore, no matter what, flights could never be 100% free of risks to nut allergy sufferers. However, that’s not to say that measures shouldn’t be taken to make flights as safe as possible if known sufferers are on-board.

What can you do to stay safe?
Whilst being onboard a plane with such an allergy can be scary, there are a few things you can do to put your mind more at ease and reduce your risk of an allergic reaction. Ensure you carry all necessary medication at all times, and make sure you have spares. Advise the airline in advance of your allergy and enquire about the possibility of a nut-free flight and make sure to advise the attendants when you board. You may even want to consider taking your own food with you.

This leads to the intriguing debate for those with a nut allergy. Are you covered by your travel insurance if you do suffer a reaction? The answer is that sadly it’s not often included as standard. A large number of travel insurance policies would not cover pre-existing medical conditions and may count a known severe allergy as such. Some will cover you but will charge extortionately high premiums. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find cover – it just means you’ll have to find one suitable to your specific requirements.

Can you still get Travel Insurance? 

The first thing to do would be to check your existing cover if you’ve taken out travel insurance in advance and don’t know if your allergy will be covered, read the terms and conditions or call the insurers directly. If you are looking at taking out insurance, it may be useful to use a reliable broker and make them aware of your specific requirements. If you’re upfront and honest about your allergy from the beginning, the insurance has more chance of being suited to your needs. The severity and prevalence of your allergy will have a factor to play in the level of cover you will require.

If you have a nut allergy or any other non-standard travel requirements contact Much Ado About Insurance so we can help find a policy suitable for you.