Lianne Mandelbaum, founder of No Nut Traveller, was recently humiliated when the United Airlines cabin crew refused to inform other passengers about her son's life-threatening peanut allergy. Mandelbaum has been working on this issue for many years. The airlines need to step up to their efforts to ensure the safety of their food-allergic passengers.
A United passenger says an airline crew member refused to accommodate her son's peanut allergy.
Lianne Mandelbaum said she was "dressed down" after asking for passengers to be told of her son Josh's allergy.
Edited by Jon Terry
Reporting by Ryan Hogg for
Business Insider Apr 16, 2023
United has a policy of informing passengers in close proximity if someone has an allergy.
A United Airlines passenger says she was left "humiliated" after a cabin crew member refused to inform other travelers of her son's life-threatening peanut allergy.
Lianne Mandelbaum boarded a flight from Houston to Newark in March with her husband and son, Joshua, according to a complaint to the Department of Transportation.
She said she asked a flight attendant to inform passengers located in her immediate vicinity of her son's peanut allergy. After some confusion over the request, Mandelbaum told the crew member she had made the same request on another United flight two days earlier.
Before takeoff, Mandelbaum says she was summoned to the front plane by a United supervisor, who said her request had been denied.
According to United's website, passengers with a severe food allergy are encouraged to inform a flight attendant and to request an "allergy buffer zone" by alerting nearby passengers. However, it says it can't stop passengers from eating allergen-containing products.
Mandelbaum showed the supervisor the guidance on the United website, but says she was met with a hand being put up to her face.
"Ma'am, I don't care what you are trying to say, I am telling you this will not happen on this flight so what do you want to do now," Mandelbaum said she was told, adding she "truly felt threatened" by the supervisor's tone and body language.
Mandelbaum told Insider in a Twitter direct message that she gave up as she was afraid of being removed from the flight.
"It was clear to all the passengers in the vicinity that I was summoned to the front of the plane and that I was being dressed down," she said in her DOT complaint. "I was humiliated and treated as if my son's peanut allergy was not a legitimate disability and not worthy of respect."
When Mandelbaum complained about the incident on Twitter, United's account responded by directing her to the same guidance she said she tried to show the crew on her flight.
Mandelbaum is a food allergen campaigner and blogger who has previously spoken with The New York Times about navigating children with food allergies through airports.
She asked the DOT to fine United and order the airline to train staff over what she called a pattern of discriminatory treatment of passengers with food allergies.
Research by the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research found nearly one in 10 surveyed passengers with food allergies experienced a reaction while on a flight.
United didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider, made outside normal working hours.
Regarding Facebook, Ms. Mandelbaum has posted additional comments adding context to what happened and providing an update for what is now happening. "Don't worry about me- I have skin as thick as an elephant by now," she wrote early last week. "The good news is that the press is interested in the topic. As I told Josh the night we landed, this complaint is not just about you, it is about everyone with food allergies who deserve to fly safely."
In the best interest of individuals and families dealing daily with peanut allergen, legal action is already underway. Stein & Vargas, LLP is a civil rights law firm filed a complaint with the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) against United Airlines for discrimination and retaliation against Ms. Mandelbaum. The law firm pasted a statement onto their Facebook page, saying "….this is a concerning pattern that causes food allergic travelers to fear disclosing their allergies. It is the second complaint of its kind filed in recent months by Stein & Vargas, LLP against United Airlines. In Jane Doe v. United Airlines," says Stein and Vargas, "the airline similarly humiliated and retaliated against a passenger who disclosed their allergy and then removed the passenger from the plane."
There is no financial incentive involved here; Ms. Mandelbaum has made that very clear. "You cannot sue an airline in the U.S. due to federal preemption," Lianne said. "You can file a DOT complaint and ask for fines to be levied (for DOT not individual) which Mary Vargas and I asked for as well as food allergy training. We hope this will help curtail this discriminatory behavior not for us but for the community as a whole."
Business Insider, April 8, 2023