A Force of Nature for Safe Travel with Allergies

in Food Allergy Advocates
Published: October 9, 2014
Lianne Mandelbaum and her son, Joshua.
I’d like to convince them with the petition that this is an issue that’s not going to go away and that it would be a really good thing to self-regulate before legislation. Do you think that the airlines will make changes without legislation?

It would be a good thing for revenue and it would be a good thing for customer loyalty.

My next step is to put out a survey that will ultimately show the airlines that making accommodations for allergic passengers will lead to increased safety for all customers, and also, an increase in loyalty and profits.

The number of signatures is impressive. Have the airlines taken notice so far?

United now has a written policy which says they “may” ask the people sitting nearby to refrain from eating nuts. But I’ve spoken to them and they said they will not ‘enforce’ a buffer zone, and if a person chooses to eat nuts, they will allow it.

I’ve spoken to JetBlue directly and they are very supportive. They have auto-injectors on their planes they will allow you to pre-board to wipe down your seats. They will also create a buffer zone around you.

I’ve had a phone call with American and they seem willing to learn and are open to the discussion. So is Swissair. These airlines aren’t currently offering accommodations beyond not serving peanuts, so the fact that they are willing to have a conversation, to me, that’s progress.

You’ve been at the receiving end of some hurtful online comments because of your petition. Has that affected you?

I had to ban someone on my Facebook page who was saying that from now on every flight that he’s going on he was going to take nuts and try to harm as many people as possible because we shouldn’t be flying with this type of disability.

I’ve also had people write me that Darwin was right – that if my son was meant to die from a peanut he should die, and that he should not pass on his inferior genes. That’s probably about the most hurtful.

I cried about this once, on my way home after the original incident. I haven’t cried about it since. Now when I see the negative comments, it makes me angry and it makes me more determined because to me these are potential passengers on the airplane.

How has this experience affected your son?

I think he feels empowered; he feels like we’re doing something. But he also sees the frustration. He asks, ‘Why aren’t they just doing this?’ I have a hard time explaining to him why these simple measures are not taken to help him and other people like him.

In one of the articles, a United spokesperson denied that our story ever happened and said that an employee would not speak to him that way. Joshua wanted me to call Judge Judy, because they accused him of lying.

Are you surprised at all the press you’ve gotten?

I sit tirelessly everyday whether it’s on LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter, I’m spending hours and hours every day on this. One of the stories I got on Yahoo was because I used LinkedIn to connect with a producer. I told him my story and he had a reporter call me. But that was after 200 people not responding. I am putting in the time!

View and sign the petition here.

More honorees in The Allergy Advocates Series:

Lisa Rutter: A Force of Good for Food Allergy
Karen Harris: Food Allergy’s Educating Dynamo
Cathy Owens: The Nurse Who’s the Allergic Student’s Protector
Jenny Sprague: Courageous Woman who Unites Allergy Bloggers
Gina Mennett Lee: A Voice of Reason for Food Allergy at School and Daycares