Canadian Airlines Release Food Allergy Policies

in Managing Allergies, Travel & Dining
Published: December 8, 2010

Air Canada and WestJet, Canada’s two major airlines, both unveiled formal allergy policies in late 2010.

WestJet’s Allergy Policy

• It is now posted on WestJet’s site that flight attendants will make one public address announcement about food allergies when a passenger self-identifies as being allergic to peanuts or nuts and requests that an announcement be made.

An update in the Flight Attendants’ Manual gives the flight crew this script (in English and French): “We have a guest traveling with us today who has a severe allergy to peanuts/nuts. We ask that you do not open or consume any peanuts, nuts or nut products during this flight. Thanks for your help.”

• WestJet notes in its policy that it can’t guarantee an allergen-free environment, but also says it understands the serious medical issues involved with nut and peanut allergies. Its flight crew will now ask a passenger who identifies as having a nut or peanut allergy whether they have an epinephrine auto-injector with them in case of emergency.

• As a backup precaution in case of anaphylaxis, WestJet has inked a deal with the makers of EpiPen to buy EpiPen auto-injectors (child and adult size) for its fleet of 91 planes. (Aircraft medical kits otherwise only contain vials and syringes for a medical professional’s use.)

Buffer Zone, Animals

• The airline’s flight attendants will also create a buffer zone around a person with a food allergy. Those seated within three rows of a passenger with these allergies (the row the person is seated in, plus two rows ahead and two behind) will be asked to refrain from eating products that contain nuts or peanuts. (This practice was available before the updated policy.)

• While it won’t satisfy asthma advocates who have been lobbying to keep all pets out of the cabin, WestJet has reduced the number animals allowed in the cabin from four to two. Pets must remain in their carriers. People are supposed to book with pets in advance and most flights are pet-free. Check if yours will be at: 1-888-937-8538.

What they serve: No snacks that contain peanuts, nuts or sesame. The policy advises that some products may have warnings that they “may contain” traces of such allergens. For this reason, WestJet recommends allergic passengers bring their own food.

Flight Booking: Must be done through the Reservations desk rather than online to receive the food allergy accommodations. Call: 1-888-937-8538.

Air Canada’s Allergy Policy

In December 2010, Air Canada has posted its first formal allergy policy on its website.

• The airline will accommodate passengers with peanut or nut allergies with a small buffer zone if the booking requesting the buffer zone is made at least 48 hours in advance with Air Canada’s medical assistance desk.  

Buffer Zone, Animals

• The policy says that, in economy class, a buffer zone will include the row of seats the allergic person is sitting in, as well as the row in front and behind. In business class, the buffer zone is the bank of seats (often two) that the person is sitting in. [Update: The buffer zone size has been since reduced.]

• Air Canada makes clear that on international flights, even within a 3-row buffer zone, it can’t be certain that meals served are nut- or peanut-free. The same is true in executive class in all flights. (The issue is international catering services with multiple suppliers, some of whom use nut products, and the risks of cross-contamination in prepared meals.)

• The airline says it can’t be responsible for other passengers who bring peanuts or allergenic foods onboard.

• Animal allergies: Air Canada for a few years kept pets out of the cabin. As of 2009, they are once again allowed in the cabin, though required to be in a carrier that fits under the seat. Pets do have to be booked onboard in advance. If you’re concerned about a pet being on your flight, check with Reservations: 1-888-247-2262.

What they serve: No snacks that contain peanuts. In business class, free almonds are given out. Snacks available for purchase from the cart include cashews, almonds and products that contain nuts.

Flight Booking: Must be done at least 48 hours in advance through the Reservations desk rather than online to receive the food allergy accommodations. Call: 1-888-247-2262, option 4.

See also: Q&A with Robert Palmer, WestJet spokesman.