Nut allergy forces Aussie couple off Qantas flight
Exclusive: Airlines are under pressure to improve their management practices around food allergies as Australia's allergy rate climbs.
A News Corp investigation has found not one Australian airline can guarantee a nut-free environment, despite 10 per cent of infants, four to eight per cent of children, and about two per cent of adults in Australia and New Zealand now reporting food allergies.
The most common triggers are egg, cow's milk, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat. Some can cause life-threatening reactions known as anaphylaxis.
One couple from Melbourne had to recently disembark a Qantas flight, after finding what they thought was a peanut dish on the menu, despite spending two years researching their $6500 overseas trip to Singapore.
Allergy & Anaphlaxis Australia CEO Maria Said said she would welcome a roundtable discussion with key stakeholders and organisations and the airlines to discuss how to increase safety for food allergy sufferers while flying.
"On almost every flight there'd be people with a life threatening food allergy - that many people in Australia now have food allergies," she said.
Courtney Ward, who suffers a nut allergy and airborne anaphylaxis, and her partner Anthony Burns booked their trip with Qantas based on its policy which states they are aware of the challenges of peanut allergy sufferers and try to minimise the risks of exposure.
Ms Ward's allergy was made clear to their travel agent, who booked the flights and followed up several times with calls to Qantas to make sure they could still travel.
Mr Burns then organised a rice noodle soup Ms Ward could eat on the plane with Qantas' approval, which they agreed to supply hot water for.
But ten minutes after boarding, Ms Ward discovered a chicken cashew satay with prawn Nasi goreng dish on the menu.
When they asked a flight attendant if the meal had any peanuts in it, Mr Burns said staff told them it did.
He said the attendant then spoke to Qantas' medical team and the couple were advised to get off the flight.
"They had a staff member escort us off the plane," he said.
"It was pretty harsh, I was surprised.
"I questioned them when we were about to board and we had our EpiPens with us, I mentioned again Courtney had a nut allergy and they let us board."
Since the incident occurred, Qantas confirmed to News Corp there were no peanuts in the dish.
After getting their luggage, they attempted to find another flight with a nut-free menu as Ms Ward cried for "three hours straight".
"I went into a complete panic when we saw the menu, after we left I was just sobbing," she said.
"We did so much research, we had used Google Maps to find places where we could buy food and bring it back to our Airbnb we'd booked to cook with our own pots and pans in our luggage," Mr Burns added.
Ms Said acknowledged Qantas could list its menu online to make it more transparent for allergy suffers, but said the situation was "very difficult".
"Sure it would be great for an airline to realise satay chicken is a risk and remove it however, are they going to remove fish, scrambled eggs and other common allergens?," she said.
"We need to have a combination of strategies in place like the education of an airline and the person who's travelling to reduce the risks of allergic reactions because you can never eliminate risk."
Despite their efforts, Ms Ward and Mr Burns did recoup expenses from their travel insurer, 1Cover.
They want Qantas and other airlines to consider banning nuts on all flights or trial nut-free zones where passengers with allergies can sit.
A Qantas spokesperson told News Corp: "Qantas is aware of the challenges faced by allergy sufferers and take steps to reduce the risk for many of our customers particularly exposure to peanuts but as there are a wide variety of allergies it's not possible to cater to everyone's requirements."
"As is the case with other forms of transport - like buses and trains - and other public places we can't guarantee a completely nut free environment."