Safety Over Snacks: Why I created the online petition to WestJet

As this petition to WestJet nears 1,000 signatures, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I felt the need to create it. See, my son has a number of food allergies, and almonds isn’t one of them.

But I don’t think that matters.

If you’re part of the food allergy community, your battle is my battle. If you or your child has a life-threatening allergy to tree nuts and you no longer feel comfortable flying an airline that once accommodated you, I’m on your side.

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The good news is that after a lot of pressure from the community, West Jet’s Media Relations Manager, Lauren Stewart, confirmed the following accommodations, as noted in Allergic Living Magazine:

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For some in the food allergy community, this is enough to make them feel safe and welcome. For others, it is a matter of principle that they revert to their nut-free menu.

Personally, I’m thankful that WestJet is willing to make the accommodations listed above (it’s certainly better than most airlines!), but what doesn’t sit right with me is the fact that, by introducing almonds onto what was a previously nut-free menu, they’ve taken a a pretty big step back when it comes to their allergy policy.

And their reason? (“To reflect the evolving product offerings our guests are asking for including healthier, portable, and protein-rich options like almonds.”) Kind of laughable, no? When you consider all of the other high-protein/allergy-friendly snack options out there, you just have to scratch your head. Not to mention they aren’t going to lose passengers because they DON’T serve nuts. But they may lose a good chunk of passengers because they DO.

Here’s why else it matters to me:

A recent experience on an Air Canada flight (where moments after the buffer zone was announced, I spied hummus on the menu and had a mini panic attack), makes me wish that buffer zones would one day accommodate all allergies. (No, I’m not asking that airplanes remove all allergens – but simply hoping that buffer zones might actually be safe zones for allergies other than nuts one day). This is why a step back on an airline known for being the “gold standard” of air travel for those with food allergies makes me despair a little.

Let me end this post with an enlightening note by Debbie Bruce of the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative (CAI). The policy that her organization has been fighting for (for 5 years now!) would be HUGE if passed. Learn more about it (and how you can help) below:

“In 2013, Parliament recognized the unique challenges faced by 2.5 million Canadians living with life-threatening allergies and unanimously passed Anaphylaxis Motion 230.

The Motion reads: ‘That in the opinion of the House, anaphylaxis is a serious concern for an increasing number of Canadians and the government should take the appropriate measures necessary to ensure these Canadians are able to maintain a high quality of life.’

One of the objectives of this Motion was: ‘Improved Transportation Safeguards-relating to airlines and public transportation policies.’

Those with life-threatening allergies – through the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative – have been appealing to the Federal Government to enact a fair and compassionate Policy to Reduce the Risk for Anaphylactic Passengers which would directly improve the safety of Canadians that suffer from anaphylaxis.

WestJet and Porter provide most of this policy already. Air Canada has provided accommodation, on an ‘ad hoc’ basis – depending on the flight crew. It is very important to have a policy because, should management change at WestJet or Porter, their philosophy of support could also change.

We have never asked for ‘allergy free’ but instead to ‘reduce the risk’ and reasonable risk reduction.

Those with life-threatening allergies are not looking for a peanut/nut free guarantee on flights and they have not asked them to be permanently replaced on all flights – although, that would seem to make the most sense.

There is a level of unease with the current Canadian airline policy that leaves us vulnerable at 35,000 feet in the air – in close quarters, sharing facilities with hundreds of other passengers and far from medical help.

The objectives of the policy are reducing the risk and anaphylaxis prevention.

You can help make a difference by contacting your MP and asking them to support our request for the Federal Government to enact a ‘Policy to Reduce the Risk for Anaphylactic Passengers.'”  – Debbie Bruce

If, like me, you’re feeling a mix of gratitude (thankful WestJet dealt with the issue so quickly) and hopelessness (is this really the final verdict?), you have more power than you think. Imagine every single one of us contacted our MP and asked them to support  this amazing policy. The results could be monumental. Food allergy community, unite!


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This post was written by AllergyBites founder, Kathleen O’Hagan. Kathleen is a writer, a foodie, and the mom of a toddler with multiple food allergies. She loves seeking out accommodating eating spots and sharing them with the food allergy community. Want to help make a difference? Sign Kathleen’s petition urging WestJet to revert to its more allergy-friendly menu.


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