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Passenger Says She Was Left ‘Humiliated’ After She Told a United Airlines Flight Attendant About Her Son’s Severe Peanut Allergy

Passenger Says She Was Left ‘Humiliated’ After She Told a United Airlines Flight Attendant About Her Son’s Severe Peanut Allergy

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A United Airlines passenger has filed a formal complaint with the Department of Transportation after she says she was left “humiliated and intimidated” when she mentioned to a flight attendant that her son suffers from a severe peanut allergy.

Lianne Mandelbaum, a prominent allergy campaigner who runs a website campaigning for airline passenger rights, claims she was made to feel like her son’s allergy wasn’t a legitimate disability which was worthy of the respect of the airline following the March 13 flight.


In a formal legal response to the complaint, United says it can’t comment on how Lianne was made to feel by its own staff and says fining the airline for an alleged breach of the Air Carrier Access Act would be an undue burden on its business.

Lianne was attempting to fly from Houston to Newark with her husband and son last month and, as per United’s own recommendations, told a flight attendant about her son’s severe nut allergy as she boarded the flight.

The allergy campaigner then asked the flight attendant to inform other passengers sat in the vicinity that there was someone with a severe nut allergy onboard the plane.

According to the complaint, the flight attendant initially thought Lianne was asking for a PA announcement to the entire plane, which was outright rejected, although this was later clarified to mean a general announcement to passengers sitting in the vicinity.

Lianne says she thought this request was going to be accommodated, but a few minutes later, she was “summoned” to the front of the aircraft, where a supervisor “loudly shut her down”.

Fearing she might be booted off the flight, Lianne says she gave up trying to get a peanut-free buffer zone for her son and returned to her seat. Lianne fears her son will now be scared of disclosing his allergy in the future following this incident.

United does not serve peanut-based snacks on any of its flights but warns allergy sufferers that meals could contain nuts. The airline says it cannot make other passengers stop eating their own nut-based snacks, but following a recent incident, United does now offer to create a nut-free buffer zone on all flights.

Last September, 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.

After that incident, United will now request that passengers in the general vicinity of an allergy sufferer not consume their own nut-based snacks. Previously, a buffer zone could only be requested on Canadian routes because of local allergy laws imposed by the Canadian government.

Lianne is calling on the DOT to impose a “meaningful” fine on United for the alleged breach of the Air Carrier Access Act and force the airline to provide mandatory allergy training to its staff.

View Comments (18)
  • sigh…. not on the article… I didn’t mind reading it at all… but on the state of the world and the people living it in..

    complain… complain… complain… so they can make their lives meaningful.


    • I have to agree with you… if he child is that allergic to peanuts n needs that big of a buffer zone….DRIVE from now on but don’t make unsettling twisted requests such as this just to satisfy YOUR needs…. what is wrong with the world n the ppl in it today…..WOW!

  • If the FA complied with the parent, it is plausible that the parent, who is an allergy activist, might complain or sue claiming a violation of medical privacy for disclosing her son’s medical history. On the other hand, some FA’s are bullies and not problem solvers.

    • This idiots complaining because the airline would not create a buffer zone around her kid because of a peanut allergy. If it’s such a severe condition she needs to take a Medevac flight instead of an airline. This lady’s crazy.

  • Unbelievable nonsense. If obese people have to purchase multiple seats than a buffer zone should afford the same logic. Why does it infringe upon others.

  • I can’t eat anything with gluten. This means most snacks that I can pack include nuts. I don’t want to endanger anyone, but I also don’t want to go hungry. I’m hoping that they would allow people to switch seats rather than not be allowed to eat their own food, food that they packed to accommodate their own allergies.

  • If the allergy is serious then carry whatever is needed to take care of it, or fly private. Peanuts are ubiquitous in the first-world. Planes are awful combined spaces, buffer zones are not practical.

  • I have breathing issues where I have extreme bronchspasms when I am in contact with certain odors. Extreme perfume or aftershave usage by some inconsiderate people are a prime example. Do I get an odor free zone? No. What about offensive body odors? I understand the concern she has but BE PREPARED FOR EMERGENCIES. Carry the necessary medications WITH YOU.

  • The article states that United offers a nut-free buffer zone on all flights. The parents were requesting an offered service. The question is more about the staff refusing to honor company policy than anything else. I’m sure the parents had whatever emergency precautions that were deemed necessary with them and were only trying to add protection for their son.

    • Indeed – I was on a UA flight last week and the f/a did exactly what the policy said. We were in first, and she asked if any of us in the “buffer zone” would mind not receiving the complimentary nuts served in first. Everyone in the buffer zone said “of course not.” No one said “Oh Karen, why don’t you drive / wear a mask / etc.” We all did what caring travelers do: gave up our ramekin of nuts so that someone else wouldn’t have to worry.

  • I was on a Delta flight a few weeks ago, before takeoff they made an announcement that someone on board has a peanut allergy and refrain from eating food containing peanuts. I didn’t think much of it since I didn’t bring any food.

  • She was totally justified. The airline staff was ignorant and don’t know their companies policy. Furthemore, those pathetic travelers who choose a tiny snack over someone else’s life are ignorant. Of course people cannot take medivacs or charter their own planes to travel long distances; noone is a millionaire. Food allergies , nut in particular are a disability and while your neighbor is scarfing down a bag of nuts, an allergic person could block their airway and suffer irreperable harm. Get educated before hurling insults at people with diasbilities and their families.

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