Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Update nuts on plains
Anaphylaxis & Food Allergy Association of Minnesota
Peanuts on Airplanes
AFAA Negotiates with Northwest/Delta Airlines
Meeting With the Airlines
An AFAA delegation met with Northwest/Delta Airlines in March to begin negotiations on reducing risks to food allergic passengers. The delegation consisted of AFAA's Medical Advisor, Dr. Allan Stillerman; AFAA's Founder & Executive Director, Nona Narvaez; former Star Tribune travel editor, Catherine Watson (who has a severe peanut allergy); and Minnesota Senator Jim Carlson, (vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee).
Also attending the meeting was Alan Peterson (senior aide to Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar), who arranged the meeting between AFAA and the airlines.
Dr. Stillerman gave a medical presentation on anaphylaxis, while Ms. Watson described the terror of having a reaction mid-flight. Ms. Narvaez presented hundreds of letters and e-mails from food allergic families, and preliminary results from the Peanuts on Airplanes survey.
Northwest (NWA)/Delta representative, Vice President Tammy Stanoch, was receptive to the information and immediately took AFAA's policy recommendations under consideration.
Shortly after the meeting, Ms. Stanoch was laid off from her position from NWA/Delta.
In addition, an announcment was made that Ms. Peterson - Representative Oberstar's aide - was beginning a new position with Minnesota's new senator, Al Franken.
The employment changes by these two allies complicates further negotiations between AFAA and the airline.
Northwest/Delta Airlines took a few weeks to evaluate the policy recommendations before responding to AFAA in April. The response was disappointing to the AFAA delegation: while response in the initial meeting was positive, in the end the airline conceded extremely and did not acknowledge inconsistent implementation of existing policies (e.g. preboarding certain passengers).
With the primary contacts (Ms. Stanoch and Ms. Peterson) now displaced, and the uncompromising response from the airline despite significant media coverage and a deluge of communication from the food allergic community, AFAA has had to evaluate remaining options. What is the best means to influence change in the airline's policy? No clear plan of action is immediately obvious.
AFAA has been consulting with state and federal policy makers, analysts, and advocates, and in the meantime has been encouraging non-allergic passengers to voice their preference for the previous NWA peanut-snack free policy.
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease," explained AFAA Executive Director, Nona Narvaez. "The more people who voice their opinion, the more likely the airline will listen."
The AFAA Board of Directors has taken a number of proposals under consideration, and is in the process of deciding which steps to take next.
Difficult Road Ahead
Ms. Narvaez went on to explain the difficulties in dealing with a large business. "A huge corporation isn't as responsive to the public as a small company would be or as public policyholders are. They are not used to answering to the public, and are not easily influenced unless something seriously cuts into their revenue."
Ms. Narvaez notes that a number of letter/e-mail writers - including frequent fliers - indicated that they cancelled their airline credit cards because of the switch to peanut snacks on the flights, and some cancelled flights after the policy change.
"If a significant number of people cancel flights and credit cards - and express to the airline why they are doing so - and do so publicly - it might make a difference."
Ms. Narvaez, who worked as a policy analyst for the U.S. Congress and for the Minnesota Legislature, cautions that "this issue is not going to have a quick fix, unfortunately. Clearly it will not be easy to get concessions."
"AFAA has to continue working on this issue with policymakers, regulators, and the food allergy community, and it may take many months until a resolution is reached. As with many advocacy issues, stamina will be necessary."