meal Etihad Airways
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Should Passengers With Rare Dangerous Allergies Have Priority Over Everyone Else Aboard an Airplane?

Bethenny Frankel was reportedly shamed earlier this year for requesting that members of the flight crew aboard the airplane on which she was a passenger not serve fish at all during the flight because she suffers from a rare fish allergy which could result in serious injury to her — or even her death.

Should Passengers With Rare Dangerous Allergies Have Priority Over Everyone Else Aboard an Airplane?

Etihad meal
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Frankel wrote via Twitter that she called the airline multiple times to say that she is allergic to fish — but members of the flight crew were serving bass while she was aboard the airplane. After they told Frankel that they could not not serve the fish dish. In a display of compassion for fellow passengers, she then protested when they were turning the airplane around because it would delay them. Members of the flight crew were then asked to not serve the fish; and the pilot announced the decision via the public address system aboard the airplane.

People suggested that if Frankel suffers from such a severe allergy, perhaps she should not fly as a passenger aboard airplanes — but is that really a fair solution; or is there a way to prevent someone from suffering from anaphylaxis shock from what could be the mere presence of food to which that person is allergic?

One Recent Example of Death From a Fish Allergy

Camron Jean-Pierre was only eleven years old when he suddenly died in a house — only mere city blocks from the Brooklyn neighborhood where I grew up — after suffering a possible allergic reaction to the smell of cooking fish on Tuesday, January 1, 2019.

“Family rushed to revive the boy, who had a known allergy to fish”, according to this article written by Stephanie Pagones, Larry Celona and Sydney Denmark for the New York Post. “They hooked him up to a machine that they’d hoped would treat the severe reaction and the boy’s father called 911, police and sources said.”

The boy was rushed by Emergency Medical Services to Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center at the corner of Linden Boulevard and Rockaway Parkway just north of Canarsie; but he unfortunately could not be saved in time.

Going Too Far?

I read this message which Frankel posted on Twitter; and here is where I draw the line:

1)I called ahead mult x 2)fish cooked in plane NOT the same as restaurant.3)been allergic since birth to fish NOT shellfish 4)plane didn’t turn bc cabin voted 5)pilot called me out to whole plane 6)airlines should NOT serve airborne allergens. & 7)who the F wants fish on a plane?

I want fish aboard an airplane. I have always enjoyed fish aboard an airplane. I want to continue to enjoy fish aboard an airplane. I never got sick from fish aboard an airplane. How many times can I write the phrase fish aboard an airplane?

Statements such as that can potentially tarnish the tireless work by people such as Lianne Mandelbaum — who is the founder of The No Nut Traveler and is a staunch advocate of the rights of airline passengers who suffer from allergies related to food. 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.”


Etihad meal
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

If an airline offers seafood amongst the options for special meals, I usually select it because I enjoy seafood — and usually, that seafood is some form of fish.

Unlike this scene from the classic 1980 movie Airplane! in which everyone who ate fish became violently ill, I have never felt sick after eating fish…

…and if someone does not like fish, does not want to eat fish or cannot eat fish, that choice is his or her right — even if it is not a option.

I have no problem foregoing dining on fish aboard an airplane as a courtesy to any fellow passengers who suffer from allergies pertaining to fish; but Frankel lost credibility with me with that one line of “who the F wants fish on a plane?”, as I believe that went too far and displayed what appeared to be an inordinate sense of entitlement. Frankel could have left out that last question and her point would have still been expressed in its proper context.

As for people who suffer from serious food allergies, I do not believe that they should never fly as passengers aboard airplanes which are operated by commercial airlines — in fact, I agree with Lianne Mandelbaum that people who suffer from food allergies should have access to safe travel for many reasons — but I do believe that some compromise is in order with respect to other passengers, if that is possible…

…but I would like to know of your opinion as to whether passengers with rare dangerous allergies should have priority over everyone else aboard an airplane. Please post your thoughts in the Comments section below.

In the meantime, other articles which I have written pertaining to food allergies over the years include:

All photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. It was worth it just to see that clip from Airplane again! I met Leslie Nielsen once, in the lobby of the Hilton that I was staying in, there was some dinner there with lots of movie stars.

    If people have life threatening allergies the airline should do whatever they can to mitigate the risk.

  2. So, I have a severe nut allergy and am a regular flyer. I have no other option in terms of travel as it required for my job.

    Airlines are getting better about it, letting me board the plane to wipe down my seat, table and making announcements. Ive never had anyone kick up a fuss because they can’t eat nuts.

    However, some are just plain (excuse the pun) dreadful. For example, Finnair. These guys make you sign a five page waver, so if you die, there is no path of recourse. I’ve asked them why they are so amendment that they have to serve nuts on every flight and never received an answer. The outcome is I no longer fly with them.

    Finally, I get some people will say that it’s freedom of choice etc etc. But I’m sure these people would be the first to complain if a flight had to divert due to someone needlessly getting ill, or worse, dying. Are nuts really that vital to flying?

  3. No, it is selfish to expect that 140-500 people adjust for your comfort (or health). The loud minority who bullies the rest of us around needs to learn their place. Next to me, not above me so no, you don’t get to impose your limitations on me.

    I am also alergic to poor fashion. Can I boot bad dressers and ugly people off the flight because they make me sick to my stomach? Hope you see the insanity

    1. Your alleged fashion sense falls far below the value of someone’s life. No one is asking you to change your diet or lifestyle permanently. You are only being asked to bea decent human being for s couple of hours. I know that may be a herculean feat for you. Maybe you are the one that should not be allowed to fly. The rest of the passengers shouldn’t be exposed to your toxicity.

    2. You are comparing bad fashion choices to a life threatening allergy? You must be joking. You do not choose to have an allergy. You can not control an allergic reaction and it is especially dangerous in the air. If a simple accommodation, such as swapping a bag of pretzels for peanuts, can easily be made then why not?

    3. If it makes you so sick to the point that you go into anaphylactic shock and possibly die thenln, yes,we should boot bad fashion and ugly people.

    4. Your allergy to fashion is life threatening is it?
      I’m so surprised when people make these kind of comments. Someone could (and many have) died, actually died from allergies. It is about so much more than “comfort”. Where is our compassion and humanity?

    5. Life and death for someone who has other food choices? Choose something else to eat for a few hours. This is not comfort. Individuals have the right to fly safely. Period.

  4. it is medically impossible to suffer anaphylactic shock from the smell or otherwise airborne particles unless someone ground them into a dust you breathed in. People are so ignorant of science. As the complainant said in her tweet, she had soup and then suffered an attack. NOT going to happen on a plane full of people eating fish. Get a doctor’s opinion on this if you don’t believe me.

    1. This is not true. My son had an anaphylactic reaction to roasting almonds. He didn’t touch or eat them.

    2. If you check the dates, you will see the posting of the soup incident was 2017. The airline incident was 2019. And check your science, airborne particles don’t have to come from grinding

  5. She’s rich. She could afford to fly a private jet if she felt like doing so but chooses to act in a pretty childish fashion instead due to her personal choice.

  6. There are filter masks that can prevent the inhalation of nut dust particles. There are rubber gloves to prevent nut (or other particulates) skin contact along with over clothes such as tyvek suits. This may seem extreme but if I had a condition that could kill me due to a stray nut, I would take the necessary steps myself, not rely on random strangers to do that for me. This is personal responsibility.

  7. I don’t understand why anyone would feel such a desperate need to have nuts/fish on an airplane that it becomes more important than another person’s life. You would rather eat fish than keep someone safe? Allergies are not a choice, trust me, I would much rather be able to eat everything without worrying if it’s going to kill me. Yes, I’m very careful and take precautions as much as possible, but is it too much to ask that airlines not serve nuts if someone tells them in advance about any severe allergies?

  8. I’d really like to learn more about the science beh8nd her claim. I’ve never heard of fish being an airborne allergy, but I’m not a doctor.I’m curious how close to the fish she would need to be for a reaction. I mean , if fish is being served in row 1, would a person in row 40 be affected, or does recirculation make distance meaningless. I like the suggestion from MM above that she fly with a respirator/mask. I’m not trying to be snarky in asking what she is doing to mitigate the risk of her own possible death. (or is she just asking that others accommodate her)? I would accommodate her request, but not everyone would. On a side note, within the past year, I’ve had fish 3x- on Cathay Pacific, Korean, and Delta. Surprisingly, it was only well cooked (not dried out) once, on DELTA.

  9. She sounds like a lunatic. Other people eating fish is going to trigger her allergy? How does she walk around a city or go to a restaurant? She seems vastly more concerned than the situation requires. Don’t eat anything served on board. I have allergies and if I am unsure if they can be accommodated easily I bring my own food. Grow up. Take care of yourself.

  10. I have a severe allergy to nuts and have spent a few nights in the ICU because of it, bit this lady makes little medical sense:
    There is not a single confirmed case of somebody going into anaphylactic shock due to airborne allergens.
    In this case, the fish is not cooked on the plane, so there is little chance of the protein to be aerolised and affect anything body. Even if it was , at worst it might cause an irritation to the nose or eyes, which can be treated with anti-allergy meds. I can sense, for example, the presence of hot nuts on a plane, but have never gotten sick…
    Also, it’s the responsibility of the allergic person to carry an epi pen for emergencies, I do ..
    People and especially parents need to stop over reacting, inform themselves and get the proper meds – then go on with their lives…
    This type of drama says more about their need for attention than their medical needs….

  11. I would also like to point out that asking an airline not to serve a particular kind of food on an airplane doesn’t really guarantee it won’t be on a plane. Passengers are allowed to bring their own food on board and how can you know someone doesn’t bring nuts or similar with them.
    So what’s next? Are you going to ask every passenger is searched to make sure they don’t smuggle nuts or fish in their hand luggage?
    You can’t rely on the environment around you to keep you safe. You have to take responsibility for your safety yourself.

  12. The posters who are commenting that food vapors cannot cause an allergic reaction are wrong. Fish steam can cause life threatening reactions (however, I don’t believe that nuts can). I know from experience. My 10 year old is allergic to all fish, not just shellfish. We have had two experiences where just walking into a restaurant cooking fish has triggered a large attack. We are now very careful about sitting as far away from an open kitchen as possible or sitting outside. 6% of all airline diversions are due to emergency allergy issues. We travel a lot and board early to wipe down the seats and tray tables (both my sons are also allergic to nuts). I never really considered the fish fume issue. This article made me really think about it. We already travel with a medical arsenal of multiple epiPens and various steriods. I going to research the best filtration mask for this issue to carry as a safety measure. Anyone who protests at not being able to snack on nuts or fish for a few hours to avoid killing someone is pretty pathetic in my mind.

  13. My son has severe allergies to peanut, tree nuts and seeds and we fly frequently on Alaska Air. They’ve been very good about not serving nuts and letting us board early but there is no guarantee on what other passengers will bring on which is nerve wracking. I do not feel that boarding early is necessary- we still have plenty of time to wipe down our area when we board in normal order.

  14. I’m sure you’re aware that these types of unseen allergies are covered by the ADA. I would like to see you pose the question,“Should Passengers With Disabilities Have Priority Over Everyone Else Aboard an Airplane?”

  15. Flying is a mode of transport. It is not a dining experience. If you are desperate for fish, peanuts, or any other food that will potentially kill a fellow passenger, gorge yourself when you land. I seriously do not understand the desperate need to eat certain foods in flight. Must you have fish on trains? Peanuts on a bus? Or can you move from point A to point B in a manner that doesn’t put someone’s life in danger over a good craving?

  16. Food allergies are real and becoming more and more common. I agree that an allergic person can not just demand a company to change its policies. However, if a person with a known allergy informs the airline prior to flight and if that airline agrees to provide a safe flight with alternative meals for other passengers, then that agreement should be honored. There should be no surprises in the air. It is life or death verses personal inconveniece.

  17. If it was a flight full of squirrels, I’d understand the nut issue. But, people, just eat something else. #afewhourswithoutnutswontkillyou

  18. its Only for the duration of a flight. No ones saying you can’t enjoy a fish dinner, peanuts, or roasted almonds once you’ve reached your destination. All passengers should be able to safely fly.

  19. Your statement is completely untrue, some allergies are airborne, I for kne am airborne anaphylatic to peanuts. Someone can eat one on the back of the plan the microscopic amounts of protien distributed by eating, breathing ,coughing, wiping hands gets picked up and distributed throughout the plan, at some point it will hit me and my lungs will start tightening, throat closing. I premedicate before flights, tske meds on, wipe everything down and wear multiple masks and carry more with me as extra filtration during those times. I look like an idiot but through experience I am able to halt the progression . I only fly when necessary now.
    They have done studies showing how far the dust and protien can go. Yes airborne is extremely rare, but it is also extremely dangerous as you never know what someone is breathing on you or around you. I know a little girl who was at the park and feet away another little girl ate a granola bar, no one thought anything about it till the little girls eyes puffed up and throat started swelling, someone went over to ask if there were nuts in the bar and there were. There were no other people or animals around. Same enviroment she had been to multiple times.

  20. Random, semi-related thoughts:
    1. I love peanuts and all nuts, and miss them on planes. But I understand that people have life-threatening allergies. So I can handle not eating nuts on airplanes.
    2. It so happens that the smell of fish makes me gag, as it does to some other people I know. I wish airlines could avoid serving dishes with such strong odors on a plane. But I just accept that they serve it.
    3. I am very, very allergic to dogs. I can have an asthma attack and die. I am extremely healthy, and do not have asthma any other time but with exposure to dogs.
    So the issue I do care about is the fact that anybody who feels like it can have their pet certified a “support animal”.
    I realize that some people (such as veterans with PTSD) actually need such a thing. And these people should be as angry as I am about the people who do not need a dog pretending to need one so they can take it everywhere. It makes people doubt the people who really need a support animal. (Note: if a veteran with PTSD or some other issue needs a support dog, I support that. Let them have ten support dogs. They deserve whatever we can give them.
    Some wacky woman that is too crazy to go about life without a small furry teammate in her handbag can stay home, for all I care. I do not need to have an asthma attack on a plane or in a restaurant because of this.)
    I now end up with a dog near me pretty often on a plane. I have started wheezing and realized that a dog’s snout was coming from between my seat and the next and slobbering on me. A bit later the same dog charged up and down the aisles twice (not the behavior of a real “support dog”). The fight attendant offered to move me out of “coach plus”, away from my kids, to a seat in the back.
    This is out of hand. I am sure these poor dogs do not want to be on an airplane.

  21. Fish allergy IS AIBOURNE if you are in the severe allergy category. It is becoming more common due to environmental factors and one day maybe one of the doubters will have a family member affected. This is because if it is in the steam, then it is in your system. If you can smell fish, that is because it is airbourne at that point. I agree that you can leave a restaurant or run past a fish market, but you cannot be trapped on a plane with recycled air and feel safe with a severe allergy. Does this mean my child cannot fly? Many of you would say so, as it does not affect you personally. It does not just affect my child his whole life if he does not fly (mainly long or medium haul) it affects all other family members who are limited by not being able to fly too (as we are a family), my other child does not have allergies. I always ask when booking beforehand if fish is on the menu, most airlines cannot state whether or not and so I do not use them, I have so far found one that says they do not (however they did serve hot anchovy ingredient anyway one time). I ask when I get on the plane too, I carry all meds inc. epipen and also a mask. On a long-haul flight an epipen may not save you, you need an ambulance and a hospital. There are very few airbourne allergies, I think fish is the biggest risk as it is served hot, I would be less frightened of cold smoked salmon, it would be in the air but not maximised by heat, but could still affect my child if multiplied by 200 plates of it in recycled air.

    I know it is a stretch for some people who are not affected by severe allergies but for us it really would be so appreciated to be believed and understanding the fear of your childs throat closing and shock, organ failure etc. happening.

    My childs tests show one prick of fish on the arm bubbles up to the whole arm, forget the wheal they draw on it to measure it, it is x 50 that maximum wheal.

    BTW, this is a freak thing, it can run in families but can happen to anyones child, who become adults.

  22. The issue resides in personal responsibility. Allergies are often a real hazard – recognizing that some people do pull the allergy card on food and smells they simply dislike or would prefer not to experience. But the obligation to avoid the allergen should lie entirely on the individual. If airlines and fellow passengers are expected to attend to allergy concerns aboard a commercial/ public plane, then all food and beverage except for water should be banned. Picking and choosing the allergy of choice is wherein lies the problem. No peanuts, no fish, no dairy, no eggs, no wheat, no meat… avoid all and protect all. But cease this senseless rally that one allergen or one passenger deserves special attention.

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