Reduce-the-Risk Airlines Campaign: An Update

in Petitions
Published: September 17, 2008

Dear Friends,

First – to all of you who took part in Allergic Living’s “Reduce the Risk” airlines campaign, thank you for the support. We had a remarkable outpouring of response; over 1,000 personalized copies of Allergic Living’s form letter were couriered to the CEOs of both Air Canada and WestJet.

Through the CEOs’ representatives, WestJet and Air Canada both confirm that they are reviewing the suggestions made in the Allergic Living letters. I’ll be frank: they make us no promises, but nor do they say “no” to what we’ve collectively put forward.

To recap, the changes we suggested to the two airlines include:

A process at time of booking to make the airline aware of a serious food allergy, and a means to confirm that notification with gate and flight crews.

With that notice, a p.a. announcement could be made in the departure area advising passengers that a fellow passenger has life-threatening allergies and asking them to please refrain from eating the top allergen(s) in question.

With notice, a flight crew would not serve snacks or menu items containing identified top allergens as ingredients.

At the start of the flight, the crew could make another announcement asking passengers to refrain from eating certain highly allergenic food(s).

Robert Palmer, WestJet’s Public Relations Manager, told me: “We’re still in discussions here about the feasibility of the various suggestions [from the campaign]. I’m not going to tell you which way we’re leaning because it would be wrong to set expectations.” He said there have been two meetings at which representatives of different WestJet departments were given tasks to research on allergy accommodations: everything from legalities to whether computer systems could track a reported serious allergy from the check-in counter to the flight crew.

“We take [the letters] seriously, we acknowledge that there’s certainly a desire on the part of sufferers with serious allergies to have some sort of announcements made,” said Palmer. “The bottom line is: ‘Is that feasible for us? If the answer to that question is yes, then we need to sit down and figure it out with you [and experts]. But we’re still at the stage of: ‘Is that feasible? Is that viable?’”

At Air Canada, John Reber, the Director of Media Relations, said that as an “initial response,” letter writers should know that the airline was “carefully studying the proposals.” He noted that: “A thorough evaluation of your proposal requires input from a number of experts representing different aspects of an airline’s safety, health, regulatory, operations and customer service areas.” He said it would take some time to get a detailed response – but indicated no timeline. Allergic Living will be following up with both the airlines.

So that’s all for now – (the original campaign letter is below). I’ll publish future updates about the campaign on the Forum, under the Travel thread. One last thing: keep communicating with the airlines. If you fly, request accommodations for serious food allergies. And if you or your child has a reaction, take the time to report it. The more the airlines hear of the seriousness of food allergy risks, the more likely they’ll be moved to accommodate.

Thanks again.

Gwen Smith
Editor, Allergic Living magazine

Next: Letter to the Airline CEOs