Study highlights the dangers of airline food to allergy sufferers

05 Oct 2012
Aeroplane

A study led by Brunel Professor in Health Research Julie Barnett has warned that airlines are putting lives at risk through a lack of interest in catering for the needs of passengers with nut allergies.

The study, published in the journal Clinical and Translational Allergy, looked at the experiences of 32 patients with nut or peanut allergy and how they cope with travel. Among the responses were reports of a crew member stroking a passenger’s arm in comfort and saying ‘poor you’ after they had explained that people could not eat nuts around them, while another gave a customer a walnut salad after they had informed them of an allergy.

Professor Barnett explained that flights were a particular danger to sufferers due to the inconsistency of information provided. She said: “Inconsistent practice on the part of airlines undermines the best efforts of individuals to manage risk, so it is vital we see the development of a consistent and helpful approach which food allergic passengers can trust and rely on.”

Study co-author Hazel Gowland, from the research and training organisation Allergy Action, added: “Inconsistency between airlines and even between flights on the same airline is a problem and it is going to take a complete and independent overhaul to overcome it. Policies available or explained to staff may not be implemented in practice, special meals are often not available or suitable for the particular passenger and flight crews don’t always remember or implement the company’s best practice."

Dr Jane Lucas, a respiratory and allergy specialist based at Southampton General Hospital and the University of Southampton, has discussed the research in interviews with the BBC and in newspapers including Metro, The Daily Mirror and The Scotsman. She commented: “This study demonstrates that, despite nut allergic individuals taking extremely sensible steps to remain safe, airlines are consistently putting lives at risk and are yet to make any significant steps towards taking this risk seriously.”

Page last updated: Friday 05 October 2012