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What happens if a passenger has an allergic reaction on a plane and tries to sue the airline?

For one woman, not only did a court dismiss her case, but now the airline is going after her for their legal costs. Passengers with food allergies are “up a creek without a paddle,” notes Allergy Law Project in their blog post about the case.


That’s because federal law protects airlines from such lawsuits. The law says that a state cannot “enact or enforce a law…related to price, route, or service of an air carrier.”


The woman boarded a United Airlines plane in Florida to go to Chicago in the 2011 incident. However, the crew refused to make an announcement asking passengers in the rows around her not to eat peanuts - something the airline had told her it would do. The plane made an emergency landing in another state after she had a severe reaction. Someone four rows behind her started to eat peanuts during the flight. She spent two days in intensive care.


"Unfortunately, trying to get the laws to change is a tough battle,” said Laurel Francoeur, Esq., one of the three lawyers behind the Allergy Law Project.

Laurel did a webinar for Kids With Food Allergies last year about flying with food allergies.

The only option for concerned flyers with food allergies right now is to contact their representative in Congress and ask for changes to the Airline Deregulation Act and the Air Carrier Access Act. Those are the laws that make it next-to-impossible for a passenger to hold an airline liable for food allergy issues (or other disability issues) while aboard a flight.


Kids With Food Allergies and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America are monitoring this issue and will update you as we learn more. Please sign up for our Advocacy Network and we will keep you informed.  


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Sometimes, it's not so easy as choosing to not fly.  Adults have to fly for business, kids have to fly to see non-custodial parents, people need to fly for family emergencies when time is absolutely critical...Flying is an unavoidable part of life, and people need to be able to fly safely without the risk of anaphylaxis.


It sounds like the airline got off the hook, so to speak, because airlines are not covered by the law.  The airline was not found innocent or not liable.


Hi Dinydeek,


As someone who has a very severe cat allergy I have to say that it does make a big difference whether there is a cat present around me or just a cat owner.  I have no problem being around cat owners but if you put me in a room with a cat I will likely have my eyes swell, breathing trouble, and more.  Perhaps being around people with dander on them explains some of the times I sneeze while in public but the level of that compared to what happens when I'm with an actual live cat is not comparable.  


As for what airlines should or should not do, I think there is a range of opinion here and we are probably not all going to agree.  


 Airlines are a private industry.  They have no control over what passengers opt to eat, or what pets they have at home or what trees or grass left pollen on the passenger or what perfume or deo the passenger opts to wear. 


So, if a passenger who KNOWS they have severe IgE allergies to pets, foods,scents etc opts to get on a plane where they know there are no laws, mandates etc that prohibit their allergen on other passengers and thus recirculated throughout the air on the entire plane, then if the passenger takes that risk and  if it costs the airlines an emergency landing, the passenger should pay. 


Clearly, it if wasn't foreseen then not the passengers fault. 




We the allergy community have a strong case arguing for *reasonable accommodations*. For food, that is clear labeling of intended ingredients and of trace levels of common allergens. The argument is all the stronger in the air, and ought to appear completely reasonable to the airlines. It would seem that requiring labeling by their caterers is a small price to pay to avoid bad press, for goodwill, and for good corporate citizenship.


It would not matter whether the pet was on the plane or not, the pet owners are covered in their pet dander you are going to react to the owners if the pets are left at home. 

While we too deal with significant allergies that prevent us from using public/ private(airlines are a private industry) transit as much as we would like for our child, it isn't the worlds job to go pet free, peanut free, dairy free, corn free, gluten free, soy free- etc.   

We simply drive and do what we can to keep her safe. 

It would be like an immune deficient patient demanding everyone on the plane wear gloves, masks, and suiting up so they could safely fly.  

 I do wish for safer food labeling laws.  Most recently the articles that  most  gluten free vitamins actually have gluten.. we have to avoid corn derived ingredients, everything is corn tainted.  Foods should come with full disclosure labeling.   


Sadly, when it comes to airline travel it is not just the potential food allergens, but the animal dander as well. I have a severe allergic reaction to all dogs, and a potentially fatal reaction to cats. It doesn't matter if they are 4 rows away or 40, the hazard is there, especially in a tin can of pressurized air. I try to travel by car as much as possible, but sometimes it just isn't feasible. I try to prepare for the possibility of animals on board, and can semi control when exposed to a dog, though I am sick for a few days afterwards... there really isn't much I can do to counteract the cat dander and just have to hope and pray I never end up on a flight with one!

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