Lessons Learned From Food Allergy Tragedy Aboard an Airplane

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse was 15 years old when she tragically died in a hospital in France after suffering from an allergic reaction aboard an airplane operated by British Airways during a flight from London to Nice in July of 2016 — and an official inquest into how this fatality could have been prevented has concluded.

Lessons Learned From Food Allergy Tragedy Aboard an Airplane

The daughter of Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse was eating a sandwich — the labeling of which gave no indication that the food was not free of sesame seeds, to which she is severely allergic.

“The Sept. 28 conclusions of Coroner Dr. Sean Cummings focused on the need to tighten labeling shortcomings, which led Natasha and her father Nadim Ednan-Laperouse to presume her sandwich was sesame-free when it was not”, according to Lianne Mandelbaum — who requested that I share this article with you which she wrote — for Allergic Living. “But during the inquest, evidence also showed there was not sufficient understanding of anaphylaxis among this particular British Airways crew. Nor was there appreciation that epinephrine is not always a miracle antidote, especially if it hasn’t been administered promptly after eating an allergen. There were also issues with how the crew supported the young physician who came forward to help Natasha on that fateful trip on July 17, 2016.”

Lianne Mandelbaum strongly believes that “food allergies are now a worldwide public health concern”; and that a standard international airline anaphylaxis action plan should be created and developed to train members of flight crews on how to recognize the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction and how to treat it — including how to administer an auto-injector — as well as the following critical criteria:

  • Anaphylaxis is a swift-progressing condition that needs to be treated early, as time is of the essence.
  • While dire reactions are rare, they happen — and several doses of epinephrine may be required, once such a reaction is in progress.
  • Positioning of the person with anaphylaxis may be important. “As the U.K. not-for-profit the Anaphylaxis Campaign notes in its emergency instructions, when a person suffering a severe allergic reaction is feeling weak or dizzy, that person should be lying down, with legs raised to help blood flow.”

Summary

Lianne Mandelbaum — who is the founder of The No Nut Traveler — is a staunch advocate of the rights of airline passengers who suffer from allergies related to food; and I appreciate that she keeps in touch with me with the latest news pertaining to her mission. She believes that the time is long overdue that we directly face “the realities of preventing life-threatening anaphylaxis in the air, and the necessity for easy-to-use auto-injectors and crew training.”

One lesson learned is the lack of certain specific information provided to members of the flight crew in terms of dealing with severe allergic reactions. According to the aforementioned article, the crew manager of the flight administered two epinephrine autoinjector applications to Natasha, erroneously believing that the epinephrine auto injector is like a “miracle cure” and would automatically improve her condition. Although flight attendants undergo rigorous training for weeks pertaining to safety issues for passengers, perhaps airlines need to include additional information regarding people with allergies in general — including to food and to animals, as illustrated in this recent article which involved an allergic passenger and two cats.

Some food companies have proactively included allergy information, which is clearly detailed on the labeling of their packages; but other food companies have yet to provide such critical information — especially in an age in which the design of packaging seems to change on a regular basis. How difficult is getting detailed information on a label which could save lives?

I am not going to rewrite the aforementioned article which she wrote, as I would rather you read it for yourself. The purpose of this article is to ensure that awareness of this problem remains in the forefront, as it can easily be mitigated in at least some ways to help prevent another tragedy like what happened to Natasha from happening again.

Other articles which I have written pertaining to food allergies over the years include:

Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

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