A United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Singapore was forced to make an emergency medical diversion to Honolulu after a passenger reportedly suffered a life-threatening allergic reaction to peanuts.
United flight UA1 departed San Francisco late on Saturday night but made a sharp left turn over the North Pacific Ocean towards Hawaii around five hours into the 15-and-a-half-hour flight to Asia.
The airline told passengers aboard the five-year-old Boeing 787-9 that the reason for the diversion was because a passenger had been taken sick. It has since emerged that the passenger had suffered a potentially serious allergic reaction to nuts.
United Airlines no longer serves packaged peanuts on any of its flights because of allergy concerns, but the carrier does still serve other nut-based products in Business Class, and there’s no guarantee that meals and snacks don’t contain major allergens.
On its website, United tells passengers with severe food allergies that they will not offer allergen-free buffer zones on most flights apart from between the U.S. and Canada, and that they can’t prevent other passengers from consuming nut-based snacks onboard.
“Since we cannot guarantee allergen-free flights, we encourage customers to review any health concerns with their physicians prior to flying,” the airline warns passengers.
Passengers with severe food allergies who still wish to travel are advised to carry at least one epinephrine auto-injector with them in their hand luggage and to tell flight attendants what they are allergic to and where the auto-injector is.
United Airlines is legally required to carry epinephrine in vial format, but this has to be administered by a registered healthcare professional. Some airlines have requested dispensation from the FAA to leave auto-injectors out of their emergency medical kits, although exemptions should only be granted for short periods and when there are supply issues.
In contrast to United’s approach, British Airways allowed severe allergy sufferers to board aircraft first so that they can wipe down their seats just in case there are nut particles in the vicinity.
The airline will also make an announcement to fellow passengers telling them not to eat their own nut-based snacks and create an allergen-free buffer zone which may include one or two cabins.
Nonetheless, even British Airways warns allergy sufferers that it can’t guarantee an allergen-free environment.
United Airlines has been contacted for comment.
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.