Two unaccompanied teenage boys were allegedly kicked off a Korean Airlines flight last week after they informed ground staff of their severe peanut allergy. The boys were travelling back to the Philippines after visiting their ill grandfather in the United States. Mother Pooja Patel said she and her husband remained in Atlanta while her sons had to return home for school.
The first half of the journey with Delta Air Lines from Atlanta to Seoul, South Korea went without incident but the boys were then left stranded in Incheon Airport (ICN) after Delta’s Skyteam alliance partner, Korean Air said it would continue to serve peanuts onboard the flight to Manila despite knowing of their allergy.
“My oldest son explained to the gate agents his severe peanut and tree nuts allergy — ingestion and airborne — which is what he does when boarding all Delta flights,” explained Patel in a since-deleted Facebook post.
Apparently, the boys informed the gate agents at Incheon of their severe nut allergy and asked for three simple things – (1) to board the flight early in order to clean their tray tables and seat surrounds, (2) to have flight attendants make an announcement for fellow passengers not to consume their own nut-based snacks on the flight, and (3) to request flight attendants not serve nut-based snacks around them.
It seems like the gate agents initially accepted the boy’s requests and allowed them onboard the plane early to wipe down the area around their seats. But at this point, flight attendants approached them and said they would not only be serving nuts on the flight but that they wouldn’t be making an announcement to stop other passengers consuming their own snacks either.
In the end, the boys were not only forced off the Korean Air flight but without anywhere else to go, they had to get back on a Delta Air Lines flight back to Atlanta. Patel says her sons were travelling for 39 hours only to be back at square one. She told the Today Show that she was “livid” with how her sons had been treated by Korean Air.
Delta also came in for criticism because it had issued the ticket, including the connecting flight with Korean Air.
The way different airlines handle nut allergies can vary enormously from carrier to carrier. While it’s acknowledged that it’s impossible to guarantee a completely nut-free environment, the gold standard is for airlines to do exactly what the Patel family had asked.
Delta Air Lines does exactly this and late last year, American Airlines also allowed pre-boarding for nut allergy sufferers so they can wipe down the areas around their seats. Southwest Airlines finally stopped serving peanuts onboard its flight last year as well.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Korean Air said it would try to learn from the incident but again reiterated that a nut-free environment can never be guaranteed.
“Korean Air is aware that peanut and food allergies are an industry issue and no airline can guarantee a food allergy-free environment,” the airline explained.
“We are reviewing ways to deal with this issue in a safe and feasible way. We totally understand the risks faced by passengers with nut and food allergies and will certainly try to accommodate them better in the future.”
Meanwhile, a Delta spokesperson said it would be reviewing the processes of partner airlines to prevent similar problems in the future.