A federal complaint has been filed against American Airlines that claims the Fort Worth-based air carrier discriminates against people with food allergies.
Food Allergy Research & Education filed the complaint Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Transportation on behalf of a Washington family whose request to pre-board an American Airlines flight was denied. The family sought to pre-board with their 7-year-old daughter who has multiple food allergies.
“Individuals and families managing food allergies pre-board to wipe down seating areas, tray tables and armrests so they can help minimize their exposure to food allergens,” a FARE representative stated in a news release. "Just one step in safeguarding against potentially life-threatening reactions."
American Airlines’ food allergy policy specifically prohibits people with food allergies from pre-boarding.
“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,” the policy reads, in part. “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.”
According to FARE, American Airlines’ policy is a violation of the Air Carrier Access Act, which “provides that no air carrier may discriminate against any otherwise qualified individual with a disability.”
The legal definition of disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”
Allergies are generally considered to be disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The law is clear – airlines must allow pre-boarding for individuals with food allergies who need to wipe down and secure their seating area,” said disability rights attorney Mary Vargas in a statement. “American Airlines, in denying this right, is in blatant violation of law. DOT must step in and take action.”
American Airlines did not respond directly to the complaint when asked for comment on Tuesday. A spokesperson acknowledged at the time that they had yet to see the complaint.