Airlines and Allergy: FAA Bill Seen as Progress, if Short of Goals

in Travel & Dining
Published: July 16, 2016

Better provisions to protect airline passengers with food allergies are still being advocated for at the federal level. See below for how you can help. Credit: Thinkstock

Hopes for safer travel with food allergies were high in August 2015
when Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Mark Kirk
(R-IL) introduced a bipartisan bill to the Senate called S. 1972, the
Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. The bill would have
required airlines: to carry epinephrine auto-injectors on every U.S.
flight; to train staff on how to use them and on anaphylaxis
symptoms; and it called for a special report to Congress on airline
policies for food-allergic passengers.

The bill, which has not passed, was timed to coincide with the Senate’s consideration of the wide-ranging Federal Aviation Authority Reauthorization Bill. The latter did pass the Senate on April 19. While the reauthorization bill incorporates mentions of airline medical kits and emergency epinephrine, the brief language on these points falls quite short of the goals of S. 1972.

The FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2017 (S. 2658) says in its Section 3105:

  • The FAA will be required “to evaluate and revise, as appropriate, the regulations regarding the on-board emergency medical equipment requirements, including the contents of the first-aid kit.”
  • The FAA will be instructed “to consider whether the minimum contents of approved emergency medical kits include appropriate medications and equipment to meet the emergency medical needs of children, including the consideration of an epinephrine auto-injector as appropriate.”

The Airline Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act has been championed by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) and a coalition of organizations, including the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, No Nut Traveler and the Allergy & Asthma Network.

Although S. 1972 did not pass, Scott Riccio, FARE’s senior vice-president of education and advocacy, remains optimistic about both the Senate outcome and what lies ahead. “While there is some measure of disappointment – our desire was to achieve 100 percent of our goals with the airline legislation – it is important to recognize the progress we have made in building awareness of food allergies and the challenges our community faces when they want or need to travel,” Riccio told Allergic Living via email.

“We try to take the long view in terms of gaining ground, and developing new champions on the Hill,” he said. “In the past nine months, since we were able to get S. 1972 introduced with bipartisan support, we have made real progress in those areas.”

Riccio is encouraged that the FAA bill does call for emergency medical supplies to be evaluated, that the needs of children are additionally to be considered, and that auto-injectors are singled out. “FARE has been advocating special attention to the need for epinephrine auto-injectors (EAIs) on airline flights,” he said. “EAIs are the only medication specifically mentioned in the bill.”

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In its media release, FARE says it will be “continuing to advocate for a study by the federal General Accounting Office of airline policies and practices regarding passengers with food allergies and is pursuing multiple avenues to get this included in legislation.” Riccio adds that FARE will also turn its attention to the House of Representatives, where the FAA bill is headed now, in the hopes of enhancing the medical equipment and auto-injector provisions in the legislation.

FARE encourages anyone interested in lending their support to the efforts to consider joining the organization’s Advocates Network, which can help connect people directly to their elected representatives so they can reach out to their representatives and express support for Section 3105 of S. 2658.

“We are also continuing to work hard in both the House and Senate to address the other areas from the original S.1972 bill that haven’t yet been included in other legislation,” said Riccio.