Emirates is well known for its award-winning passenger experience, with many customers even going so far as to praise the airline for its culinary options in all classes – including, something that’s almost unheard of, in Economy. But two British siblings got a nasty surprise on what they had hoped would be a dream flight with the Dubai-based airline.
According to reports in various news outlets, including Fox News and popular British tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail, the grown brother and sister – Shannen Sahota, 24, and Sundeep Sahota, 33 – paid over £5,000 for their eagerly awaited vacation to Dubai and Singapore. But the way Emirates dealt with their “severe nut allergy” left the siblings less than impressed.
Unfortunately, The Mail doesn’t specify what kind of nut allergy the Sahota’s suffered from but they did apparently tell Emirates on several occasions about their allergy – including when they both checked-in and on boarding the A380 at Birmingham International Airport in England.
According to Ms Sahota, both she and her brother had brought their own food with them for the seven-hour flight to Dubai because they couldn’t trust Emirates to supply food that was completely free of nuts. They also had EpiPen Auto-injectors with them – containing a life-saving shot of Adrenaline just in case they suffered an anaphylactic shock.
What they hadn’t considered though, was that one of the hot meal options being served contained cashew nuts.
“When we realised what they were serving we were just completely panicked and started frantically buzzing for the staff to come over as it was too late to get off,” Shannen told the newspaper.
‘We must have buzzed about 15 minutes before someone came – we told her the issue and how we had already informed them, multiple times about it.
‘I told her that we could potentially die as we have got a severe nut allergy and she didn’t seem too concerned.”
At this point, Ms Sahota claims the member of cabin crew suggested they sit at the back of the plane – something they rejected because “the nut particles would already be in the air.” The next idea allegedly dreamt up was for them to both sit in the toilets while the meal service was underway.
Again the Sahota’s dismissed that suggestion, instead opting to cover their heads with blankets for the duration of the flight. Neither Shannen or Sundeep suffered an allergic reaction during the flight.
But here’s the thing – by international standards, Emirates’ policy on nut allergies is admittedly poor but even then it’s probably fair to say that the brother and sister duo completely overreacted to the potential danger they actually faced.
A particularly good airline will allow passengers with severe nut allergies to pre-board the aircraft so they can wipe down their seat area and tray. They’ll stop serving nut-based snacks and cabin crew might even make an announcement, asking other passengers to refrain from eating their own nut snacks.
The whole idea of these policies is to prevent microscopic nut particles from becoming airborne – made even worse by the fact air is recirculated in a plane cabin. At this point, severe nut allergy sufferers may ingest the dust and then suffer a reaction.
Despite the hype, however, the chances of actually experiencing a reaction are still incredibly small. Nonetheless, it’s understandable why someone with a history of anaphylaxis wouldn’t want to take the risk.
Yet even airlines that have the most stringent, passenger-friendly policies to nut allergies still serve hot meals containing nuts. The reason is simple – once cooked in a sauce, the risk of any nut particle becoming airborne is so tiny as to be inconsequential.
Do you really think an airline would continue to serve a product to hundreds of passengers if they for one second thought it could result in the flight being diverted – at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most certainly not.
That’s not to say that some airlines – including Emirates couldn’t do better. Simply saying you “can’t guarantee a nut-free flight” and then placing all responsibility on the passenger isn’t fair – there are ways to mitigate the risks.
In this case, though, the Sahota’s overreacted and newspapers haven’t done a very good job at reporting the facts. Yes, the cabin crew could have done a better job of educating the brother and sister – and try to put their minds at rest.
“Emirates tries to cater to all passenger-specific needs by offering a number of special meals that cover as many medical, dietary and religious requirements as possible,” a spokesperson for the airline said. Explaining that they’ll be in contact with the Sahota’s soon.
Unfortunately, the way some flight attendants handle legitimate concerns from severe nut allergy sufferers is often less than impressive. Some passengers have even taken to refusing to tell their airline of their allergy – for fear of being booted from a flight.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.