FARE has taken the next steps in a complaint process against American Airlines for the airline’s refusal to allow allergic travelers to pre-board flights to wipe down seating areas as a precaution against allergen exposures.
The law firm of Stein and Vargas, on behalf of the national food allergy advocacy organization, filed a formal complaint on Feb. 15 with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), saying that the airline’s policy is discriminatory and a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act.
This is the second complaint filed by FARE against American Airlines.
The initial one, filed in January, was meant to be informal in hopes that the airline would see that its policy was in clear violation with federal law, says lawyer Mary Vargas, who is representing FARE. The airline stood by its decision of not allowing allergic individuals to pre-board, which is why FARE has now entered into the formal complaint process.
“FARE is asking DOT to take action before an administrative law judge against American Airlines on behalf of people with food allergies,” Vargas says. “After an investigation, the judge would review the complaint filed by FARE and any other documents and reach a decision about who is right and who is wrong.”
The process of a formal complaint can take upwards of a year, but Vargas is hoping that won’t be the case. “With so many people being denied rights that they need to be safe in air travel, I would like the process to move quickly,” she says.
Parents of children with food allergies or individuals with the condition often wish to wipe down their assigned seating area to eliminate allergen residue from travelers on previous flights, and thereby reduce the risk of an allergic reaction. Vargas says that if an allergic person is trying to wipe down the seating area during general boarding, it delays those who are standing in the aisle waiting to get to their seats.
“I don’t understand the pushback from American Airlines because it seems like a win-win situation. It’s a simple step. It is necessary for people to feel and be safe while they are in the air,” she says.
The Access Act says that passengers with disabilities must be allowed to pre-board if they request additional time to board or be seated. FARE’s complaint contends that this includes food-allergic individuals since “food allergies substantially impair the major life activities of breathing and eating.”
“The law is very clear,” says Vargas. “If a person with a disability needs to pre-board in order to be seated in a timely fashion or in order to be seated safely, then they must be permitted to pre-board. Both of those situations apply to someone with food allergies.”
The lawyer says American Airlines has received the complaint but there have been no discussions. Allergic Living asked the airline for comment on the complaint, but has not received a reply.
The allergy policy on American Airlines’ website says: “We are not able to provide nut ‘buffer zones,’ nor are we able to allow passengers to pre-board to wipe down seats and tray tables. Our planes are cleaned regularly, but these cleanings are not designed to ensure the removal of nut allergens, nor are our air filtration systems designed to remove nut allergens.”
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