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Our British Airways nightmare: Passenger whose son has a severe nut allergy shocked as her family is ‘removed’ from flight… so a nut dish could be served (even though BA had been warned about the issue)

A British Airways passenger was left feeling ‘completely devastated’ and ‘physically sick’ after she and her family were ‘removed’ from a flight – because her son has a severe nut allergy and there was a meal with nuts on board the plane.

What’s more, the passenger, Alice Smith*, 43, had spent days in conversation with BA arranging for her cabin on the August 24 flight from London Heathrow to Dubai to be nut-free.

Yet when BA staff discovered that a cashew nut meal had been delivered to the galley for the meal service, Smith claims they decided to remove her group from the flight instead of the nut dish. So Smith – who has vowed never to fly with BA again – disembarked, along with her husband, 50, her two elderly parents, aged 73 and 74, and her two children, aged 14 and 18.

They weren’t placed on another flight to Dubai until the following day. On their replacement flight, Smith, her husband and their sons were downgraded to economy seats, despite having paid to sit in premium economy, marketed by BA as World Traveller Plus. Smith’s elderly parents, however, were upgraded from premium economy to business class. 

As a result of the debacle, the family lost a whole day of their 10-day trip in Dubai, which had been booked – along with their flights – through BA Holidays. 

A British Airways passenger has spoken of her shock and horror after she and her family were ‘removed’ from a flight – because her son has a severe nut allergy and there was a meal with nuts on board the plane

Smith’s 14-year-old son is allergic to all nuts – including ‘tree nuts’ – and must carry an emergency adrenaline pen in case of an allergic reaction

To compensate, an extra day was added on to their trip ‘free of charge’.

The holiday was a special one for the family, as it was Smith’s elderly father’s first trip after undergoing a heart bypass. Smith was recommended BA Holidays by a friend, and spent £15,500 on the package break, splashing out extra on premium economy tickets to ensure her father would be comfortable.

Smith’s 14-year-old son is allergic to all nuts – including tree nuts such as cashews – and must carry an emergency adrenaline pen in case of an allergic reaction.

The mum-of-two, who is self-employed, first contacted BA about her son’s severe allergy on August 12 – nearly two weeks before their flight was due to depart.

Smith is aware that the airline can’t guarantee a completely nut-free environment, as its website states, but she alleges she was told that they wouldn’t have any nut dishes on the menu in her cabin. She says: ‘We [were] assured by BA several times that no nuts would be served in our cabin and several announcements would be made before take-off.’ 

When the family of six arrived at the airport to check in for flight BA107, they were again reassured that no nuts would be served in the cabin, Smith claims.

Later they boarded the A380 early ‘to clean and sanitise the area’ around their seats as they usually do, Smith explains. When she spoke to the crew on board about her son’s allergy, they told her that they ‘knew all about it’ and said that earlier in the day, they’d held a meeting in which they’d discussed the precautions they would take, Smith says.

She continues: ‘[The crew] proceeded to make five separate announcements [to fellow passengers] to “please refrain from eating or opening any nuts or nut products as there is a young person on board who has a severe nut allergy”.’

The family had been due to fly from London Heathrow to Dubai for a 10-day trip booked through BA Holidays

Smith was impressed by the multiple announcements and says that ‘all seemed well’. She says of her fellow passengers: ‘People were handing in nuts to the crew, saying: “Oh I’ve got some, can you take them away from me.” Passengers were lovely.

‘We were fully assured, fully confident. [We were] literally sitting there, ready for take-off.’ 

However, things took a turn when they were handed their menus, ‘which, to [her] horror included a prawn with cashew nut meal’.

Smith says: ‘What happened over the next hour has traumatised our whole family and won’t leave us.’

Feeling ‘tearful and anxious’, she says she alerted the crew to the nut dish on the menu. 

Smith alleges she was initially told that the cashew nut dish would be replaced. Then, three members of ground staff came on board the flight and Smith was informed that it had been decided it was ‘best’ for her family to disembark the aircraft, she alleges.

It was just the most traumatic, awful, horrendous experience 

She notes that ‘some of [the crew] were so upset and they were lovely… I do not know whose decision this was to remove a family [instead of] a little carton of food’.

Smith claims: ‘By this point, I was shaking and feeling very intimidated and bullied… I explained that I had my elderly parents with us and there were six of us.’ She also pointed out that they had repeatedly received assurance there would be no nuts served in the cabin, but it was to no avail – they were asked to leave the flight, she alleges.

She admits: ‘I can’t tell you the shock and horror of that feeling… I just kept thinking this can’t be happening. We were removed, our bags [were] taken off and my family [was] distraught.

‘I was in floods of tears.’

She alleges that fellow passengers on board were ‘disgusted and said how horrendous it was… no one could believe it’.

Smith and her family spent the rest of the day in arrivals with representatives from British Airways’ customer service team trying to arrange a new flight to Dubai, she says. Eventually, a flight for the following day was arranged. 

The family was offered water, but not food vouchers or a hotel for the night, she alleges – a claim that BA disputes. 

Smith alleges they had no option but to return to their Berkshire home ahead of their replacement flight the following day, paying for taxis both there and back. 

There were no issues with nuts on their subsequent flight to Dubai.

After they were asked to leave the plane, the family spent hours in London Heathrow Terminal 5 with representatives from British Airways’ customer service team trying to arrange a new flight to Dubai

Smith says: ‘Our holiday we had been looking forward to [was] ruined. The treatment we received was horrific. The stress suffered has affected us all.

‘We have not had any explanation for what they did to us and no remorse [has been] shown.’

She plans on seeking compensation from BA eventually but says she is currently ‘too traumatised’ by the experience to navigate making a claim.

Smith says: ‘It was just the most traumatic, awful, horrendous experience. It left me feeling physically sick. I’ll never travel with them again. Never – it was shocking.’

A statement from BA disputes aspects of Smith’s account. It says: ‘The safety and welfare of our customers is always our priority, and that’s why on every flight we operate we follow the recommendations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for allergen-sensitive passengers. 

‘We clearly state in our published policy, and all correspondence with customers, that we can never guarantee an allergen-free cabin environment. Our crews work hard to limit any risk by allowing customers to board early to carry out additional cleansing, making allergy announcements to all passengers and restricting the serving of peanuts. 

‘In this case, our teams worked hard to find solutions to the issues raised once the customers elected not to travel that day, offering overnight hotel accommodation, the same flight the following day and extending the family’s holiday free of charge.’

The BA website says: ‘We cannot guarantee an allergen-free cabin environment or prevent other passengers from bringing their own food on board. Meals containing tree nuts may continue to be served throughout the aircraft and tree-nut-based snacks may also continue to be served in other cabins of travel depending on the aircraft type.’

The charity Allergy UK says that ‘it is important that airline staff are informed of a food allergy at every opportunity’ though it notes that ‘individual airlines will have their own policy on food allergy management and this will vary depending on the provider’.

It adds: ‘There is no legislation to date that determines best practice for managing the needs of the food allergic traveller.’

*The subject’s name has been changed.  

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