Why people with nut allergies should avoid British Airways

I’ve written before about the occasional trials of living with a nut allergy, and how it’s generally not all that bad.

That was until I found myself flying long haul with British Airways. Between their vastly unhelpful customer service, their insane menu planning (who thinks it’s a good idea to actively include nuts in both the evening meal options for a twelve-hour flight?) and their repeated inability to make the cabin crew aware that there is anyone with a nut allergy on board, they seem to be wilfully promoting the likelihood of an anaphylactic episode on their aircraft, while simultaneously reducing the chances of survival.

I know it sounds a bit whiny (and every time I complain about people ignoring my allergy I feel like a spoilt child stamping his foot because he isn’t the centre of attention), but going without meals on a long flight is pretty miserable, especially when everyone around you is tucking in and the air is rich with the tantalising smell of hot food. The thing is, humans aren’t really well-suited to being kept immobile in a small space for such a long time, and part of the cabin crew’s job is to keep them safe and to try and slow down the rate of physical and psychological deterioration. By starving passengers with severe allergies and turning every mealtime into a game of Russian roulette, BA is actively working against its own staff in all these aims.

Behold a remarkable exchange I recently had with their customer services department.

8 December 2014

Hello,

I flew from London Heathrow to New Zealand (via Singapore and Sydney) a couple of weeks ago, and the London to Singapore leg was on board a BA flight. Despite my travel agent contacting BA in advance (by telephone) to inform them about my nut allergy, and me notifying the check-in staff again on arrival at the airport, when the evening meal came, both options contained nuts [there was a pesto pasta thing with cashews and something else which I’ve forgotten], and the air stewards had not been notified that there was anyone on board with a nut allergy, so they had no alternatives. I was thus compelled to go hungry until the morning.

The reason for my message though is that I am returning from Sydney to London Heathrow on Monday 15 December (on the flight mentioned above), and it’s a very long flight, so I’m wondering if there’s any way to try and get some food that I might be able to eat. I understand of course that BA cannot guarantee 100% that there is no cross-contamination in their meals, but tiny trace elements are not the problem. I’m simply allergic to nuts (all of them, rather than just peanuts), and there doesn’t seem any way of getting hold of a meal that doesn’t have nuts as an actual ingredient. What do other people with nut allergies do?

I’m wondering how I can make this plea any more heartfelt, apart from saying that the flight is 23 hours 25 long [with a short stop in Singapore], and it’s a long time to go without food. I suppose I could just buy loads of really expensive crisps at the airport departure lounge, but I’d rather that was a last resort if there’s any other option.

Many thanks,

Joly Braime

13 December 2014

Dear Mr Braime

I am sorry we have been unable to reply to you sooner.

Our in-flight meals don’t contain peanuts/peanut products, however, they may be produced at a catering facility that handles them – therefore, as you have already noticed, we’re unable to offer our customers the ability to pre-order a peanut/tree nut-free special meal. I’m so sorry if this disappoints you.

We don’t actually offer peanut snacks on board our flights but they can sometimes be used in snacks in our airport lounges. Tree nuts, such as walnuts and cashews, may be offered on our in-flight menu and lounge/flight snacks.

I do need to advise you that unfortunately our cabin crew are not able to make an announcement to other passengers requesting them not to eat peanuts/tree nuts during your flight – it could be that some passengers might not understand the announcement due to language difficulties and so could eat peanuts/nuts they have brought onto the flight, or that some customers still wish to eat those they have with them.

You can take a meal that you have prepared yourself onto the flight, to avoid any possible risks. Please just bear in mind that all food transported through security or immigration/border control will be subject to local rules, and that items such as drinks and liquid-based food (for example, pasta sauces, gravies, stews and curries, jelly, jams and yoghurts) may be only be taken through airport security and onto your flight if they are in quantities less than 100ml and can fit within your one single plastic ‘liquids’ bag per person.

Any food you take yourself will need to be non-perishable as our cabin crew aren’t able to store customers’ own food or medication in the galleys, and similarly they’re unable to heat customers’ food in the ovens. Of course they can provide hot water if you need it for whatever food you take, or ice to chill something.

The following ba.com page contains further advice for customers with allergies:

http://www.britishairways.com/information/special-assistance/medical-conditions

I hope this information is useful to you.

Kind regards

[British Airways]

13 December 2014

Hello,

I’m afraid that reply isn’t really satisfactory. You’ve mainly just copied and pasted what was on the website, which didn’t answer my question, or I wouldn’t have emailed.

As I mentioned in my email, it’s not just peanuts but nuts in general that I’m allergic to. I didn’t ask about stopping other passengers eating nuts, or about the possibility of cross-contamination (because the answers to those questions were online). I simply asked about the possibility of not putting nuts in the recipe for both the dinner options on a long-haul flight, which is what happened on my way out here.

I guess if this is the best approximation of service BA can offer then I’ll just have to bring my own food and hope I can get it on board. Or go hungry for 23 hours.

There’s a difference between not going out of your way to make life easy for people with nut allergies, and deliberately making it hard. Anyway, I’ll be sure to pop all this correspondence online when I get back so that other folk with allergies can hopefully make a more informed choice about what airline to travel with.

Regards,

Joly Braime

13 December 2014

Dear Mr Braime

I am sorry you had to write back to us.

Our in-flight meals don’t contain peanuts/nut products, however, they may be produced at a catering facility that handles them – therefore, as you have already noticed, we’re unable to offer our customers the ability to pre-order a peanut/tree nut-free special meal.

I am so sorry if this disappoints you.

Kind regards

[British Airways]

14 December 2014

Hello again,

Do you realise you’ve just sent me the same cut and pasted paragraph that didn’t answer my question last time?

Is anyone actually reading my emails or is there a piece of software just scanning for words it recognises and sending me automatically-generated responses?

Frog. Pineapple. Ninja. Carousel. Merino. Curtains. Blancmange.

Wonder what will come back from that…

Regards,

Joly Braime

14 December 2014

Dear Mr Braime

I am sorry you had to write back to us.

Unfortunately we are unable to assist your further through this email channel. Please contact your nearest British Airways office, where one of our agents will be able to assist you, as we do not have access to some of the systems used in our contact centre. Their contact details can be found at:

http://www.britishairways.com/travel/ctclist

I apologise I couldn’t be of immediate help to you.

Kind regards

[British Airways]

Alright, so I lost my patience a bit at the end, but it did feel a bit like I was being set up by Channel 4’s Bad Robots.

Needless to say, despite this exchange and a further telephone call from my travel agent, none of the air crew had any idea that there was someone with a nut allergy on board, and an air steward gave me a stern telling-off for not notifying them in advance. She did, however, then proceed to go through all the spare special meals until she found one without nuts in, so at least someone in blue and red was looking out for me.

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2 Responses to Why people with nut allergies should avoid British Airways

  1. Claire says:

    Hi Joly,

    Did you get anywhere with BA in the end? I’m having a similarly frustrating experience with them whilst trying to ask for a nut-free veggie meal for my flight (they are basically pasting stuff from their website and talking about cross-contamination, whilst ignoring my actual question about ordering a meal free from nut ingredients). I came across your blog whilst looking to see if anyone else had similar issues – sounds extremely annoying!

    Cheers,

    Claire

    • indyjols says:

      Hi Claire, and sorry to hear you’re having the same trouble. Doesn’t sound like BA have made any improvements in the last two and a half years! No, I never got anywhere – I just have to try and fly with other airlines, which isn’t an ideal solution. I do hope you manage to get it sorted anyway!

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