Allergy expert warns airlines are 'risking lives'

Dr Jane LucasA top doctor has warned airlines are putting lives at risk by showing a lack of interest in catering for the needs of passengers with nut allergies.

Dr Jane Lucas, a respiratory and allergy specialist at Southampton General Hospital, said flights were a particular danger to sufferers due to inconsistent information provided by companies and called on them to take responsibility for their customers.

She spoke out following a study, published in the journal Clinical and Translational Allergy, which looked at the experiences of 32 patients with nut or peanut allergy and how they cope with travel.

Among the responses were reports of how a crew member stroked a passenger’s arm in comfort and said ‘poor you’ after they had explained people were not to eat nuts around them, while another gave a customer a walnut salad after they had informed them of an allergy.

“This study demonstrates that, despite nut allergic individuals taking extremely sensible steps to remain safe, airlines are consistently putting lives at risk and are yet to make any significant steps towards taking this risk seriously,” said Dr Lucas, who is also a clinical senior clinical lecturer at the University of Southampton and is based at the NIHR Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit.

“It is simply appalling and unacceptable to see the level of variability between airlines and even on different flights within the same airline and it is time the travel industry took responsibility for the safety of their customers and developed a consistent, joint approach.”

Hazel Gowland, of the research and training organisation Allergy Action and study co-author, added: “Inconsistency is a problem and it is going to take a complete and independent overhaul to overcome it.

“Policies available or explained to staff may not be implemented in practice, special meals are often not available or suitable for the particular passenger and flight crews don’t always remember or implement the company’s best practice.”

Julie Barnett, a professor in health research at Brunel University and study lead, added: “Such inconsistent practice on the part of airlines undermines the best efforts of individuals to manage the risk, so it is vital we see the development of a consistent and helpful approach which food allergic passengers can trust and rely on."

Posted on Thursday 4 October 2012