This Woman Was 'Kicked Off' Her Flight For Having A Nut Allergy

Sophie Draper was told cabin crew would continue to serve nuts – then escorted from the plane.
Sophie Draper was told staff are "contractually obliged" to sell nuts.
Sophie Draper/Getty
Sophie Draper was told staff are "contractually obliged" to sell nuts.

A woman has shared how she was “kicked off” a plane travelling from London to New York when the airline refused to accommodate her severe nut allergy.

Sophie Draper was due to travel from London Heathrow to JFK airport with American Airlines in December 2021.

She says she tried to inform the airline of her life-threatening allergy when booking the flight, but there was no option to do so online.

At check-in, she and her boyfriend, Pete, were told to speak to staff at the gate – and this is where things began to unravel.

Draper, a 26-year-old PhD researcher based in Durham, says the gate staff looked confused when she spoke to them about her allergy.

She was then taken to speak to the head of cabin crew, who, she says, said they were “contractually obliged to serve hot mixed nuts in first and business class” and that it was “against company policy” to make any announcements relating to food allergies.

Draper’s allergy is to all tree nuts and is airborne, meaning she risks life-threatening anaphylaxis if she inhales an allergen. Removing nuts from economy would not sufficiently protect her health.

“American Airlines made me feel like my health and safety and that of others with severe food allergies is not important,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I have no control over my nut allergy and the danger it presents to my life if I were to go into anaphylaxis.

“Adults and children with severe nut allergies already face many barriers to travel and experiences, the least airlines could do is take this health condition seriously by making appropriate announcements and replacing nuts with another snack.”

Sophie Draper and her boyfriend, Pete.
Sophie Draper
Sophie Draper and her boyfriend, Pete.

Draper’s boyfriend asked one of the crew members what would happen if she went into anaphylactic shock over the Atlantic, to which a member of staff apparently responded by asking Draper: “He knows how to use your EpiPen, right?”

The couple say their bags were removed from the flight without further discussion and they were escorted away from the plane.

“I broke down in tears,” Draper says. “I felt totally discriminated against for a health condition I have no control over.”

It is sadly not uncommon for allergy sufferers to face hostility when requesting basic safety measures on flights. Allergy forums are full of similar accounts and in 2018, singer Dua Lipa made headlines when she slammed an airline for failing to accommodate her sister’s allergy.

Awareness among some airlines is improving though, following the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. The 15-year-old collapsed on a British Airways flight after consuming a Pret baguette and experiencing an allergic reaction. She died despite her father using two EpiPens to try to save her life.

Draper says some other American Airlines staff were sympathetic and walked her to the British Airways desk to rearrange her flight. Her experience with BA was much more positive – and shows how easy it is for airlines to get it right.

“They stopped serving all nut products, made multiple announcements about there being a passenger with a nut allergy, and personally spoke with all passengers within a number of rows of me,” she says.

The flight change meant the couple’s trip was delayed and in the commotion of changing airlines, their luggage was lost. This meant they had to spend hours on the phone to track it down once they were in New York.

Draper shared her story on Twitter because American Airlines had not responded to the complaint she issued over a month ago.

HuffPost UK contacted American Airlines about Draper’s story and she has since been contacted by the airline directly.

“Protecting the health and safety of those who fly with us is our priority, and it’s essential to our purpose of caring for our customers as they travel,” a spokesperson told HuffPost UK. “We regret that we disappointed Ms. Draper and her travel partner during this trip, and our team has reached out to apologise and hear more about their experience.”

Still, Draper is unimpressed and says she decided to share her story to raise awareness of how people with allergies are treated by some airlines, and to warn other allergy sufferers not to fly with American Airlines.

“I did want to wait until AA contacted us as they said they would respond to our complaint within a month but that time has passed and we have heard nothing so I doubt they treated it seriously,” she says.

“It deeply concerns me that policies like those of AA probably won’t change until something awful happens like a fatality.”