Studying Abroad with Food Allergies Part III: My Life is Worth More Than Warmed Nuts

benz headshot
Elizabeth Benz
May 12, 2014

I have been very lucky regarding my nut allergy this semester-not a single visit to the hospital or need to use my Epi-Pen. The biggest problem I have had to deal with, however, has been my flight home from Italy. I’ve flown to and from Europe before on Delta without problems, and I have a procedure for situations where food is to be provided by the airline – even the smell of nuts is dangerous for me. First, I make a note on my reservation. I also call the airline a few days before my departure to ensure that the note about my condition has been added to the itinerary. Finally, I check with the crew at the gate to ensure that they received the memo.

Yesterday I called American Airlines as part of my normal routine before flying, as my flight was scheduled for Friday. I was told by a representative and her supervisor that, in non-negotiable terms, the flight crew would be serving nuts in economy class if it was on the day’s snack menu (a 50% chance), regardless of the fact that I have a detailed note from my doctor and was calling far enough in advance for alternate arrangements to be made. In addition, there was a certainty of warmed nuts being prepared on the plane for the first class passengers – heating spreads the smell faster and farther. There was no way to check the menu before I arrived at the gate, and if they were serving nuts that day and I didn’t feel comfortable boarding I would not receive a refund or other compensation.

This conversation left me in tears. There are few other situations where your life is so dependent on the understanding of other people. My parents and I ultimately decided that it was not worth the risk, and we booked another ticket through AerLingus, whose representatives told me that nuts are not offered on the plane and they would make an announcement to create a “buffer zone” around me where passengers were requested to not consume nuts. The downside is that the only economical flight was on Thursday, which means that I will be missing the final concert and the IES farewell dinner with my host family and friends.

I’m posting this not as a direct attack on the airline, but because one of my goals for this blog has been to provide an honest portrayal of my experience as a sufferer of severe food allergies taking the risk of living abroad. I hope that this entry helps others in my situation make an informed decision about an unavoidable part of studying in a foreign country. A quote I found from the president of the airline is, “The warm nuts are something we can offer the premium passenger to make the travel experience better and to help differentiate our product.” I certainly decided to make my travel experience better – by changing airlines and deciding that my life was worth more than warmed nuts.

benz headshot

Elizabeth Benz

<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Elizabeth Benz is a lifetime upstate New York resident who never takes the snow brush out of the back seat of her car. Originally from Buffalo, NY, she is a senior Music Education/Violin Performance major and Italian minor at Ithaca College. These three passions were intertwined on a life-changing trip in 2006 to the International Suzuki Method Conference in Turin, Italy, where she not only saw the communicative power of music across young artists from many nationalities, but also fell in love with the language and culture of the country. Eight years later she is fulfilling the promise she made to herself to return to Italy, after completing her senior student teaching practicum. She is particularly interested in observing the emphasis and importance placed on youth music and arts programs across Europe, and returning with ideas to inspire and support her own program at a future teaching job.</span></p>

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