DOT: Airlines Must Let Passengers With Allergies Board Early
Air travel can be a stressful event, especially for those with children. For the most part, the experience is out of our control. From the moment you get to the airport, you’re at the mercy of everything around you. You have to follow strict baggage policies, check-in procedures, and airport security. Even after you’ve made it through security, the stress doesn’t end there.
Once you get through security, you’re stuck waiting in a crowded area with a bunch of strangers. You have no control over whether or not your flight leaves on time. If you have connections, that stress is only magnified.
There are ways to reduce that stress, such as lounge access, TSA Precheck, or Global Entry. Many of these can be attained for free through premium credit cards, but not everyone has those.
For people traveling with severe food allergies, there are stressors that simply can’t be alleviated. However, a recent DOT ruling hopes to change that.
Last month, a complaint was filed with the DOT asking for severe food allergies to be treated the same as disabilities. The complaint came after American Airlines denied early boarding to a mother wanting to clean the area around her seven-year-old daughter’s seat. The daughter had a life-threatening nut and seed allergy, and this was the mother’s way to ensure her daughter could travel safely.
The DOT ruled in favor of the family, classifying life-threatening food allergies as disabilities. Under this ruling, passengers with life-threatening nut allergies will now be allowed to pre-board along with other passengers with disabilities.
In the past it was at the discretion of the airline and gate agents, whether to allow this. However, airline policies were inconsistent, and enforcement was even less consistent.
Many airlines have eliminated peanuts from their on-board snack menu over the past several years to accommodate customers with allergies. Southwest removed peanuts from their offerings last year, replacing them with pretzels. Delta will avoid serving peanuts if a passenger on board has an allergy.
What does this mean?
In theory, individuals and parents of children with life-threatening food allergies should be allowed to pre-board to clean the area around their seats beforehand. In practice, it’s anyone’s guess as to how closely the airlines will follow this.
This also has the risk of passengers abusing the system. I could see people abusing this similar to how passengers abused the emotional support animal rules to fly with their pets. While there are people with legitimate allergies, it’s difficult to prove someone does not have a food allergy, As a result, airlines may struggle differentiating between people who truly need to board early and those who are abusing the system to avoid paying for early boarding.
In the end, airlines will likely have to crack down on abuses and require additional proof or documentation, similar to what we’ve seen with emotional support animals over the past year.
While I believe the rule is well intentioned, it’s also incredibly difficult to make a plane completely allergen free. Airlines do not prohibit passengers from bringing their own food and snacks on board. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to guarantee a passenger won’t face any kind of allergen while flying in a big, sealed metal tube.
I can’t truly relate to what someone traveling with life-threatening food allergies has to go through because I don’t have any. However, I imagine traveling is incredibly difficult for those that do. Traveling is challenging enough as is. If something small like letting a passenger board early helps improve the experience for those impacted, I’m all for it. I just hope people are decent enough not to abuse the system.