Delta Air Lines is standing by one of its flight attendants who has been accused of discriminating against a passenger with a nut allergy in a formal complaint lodged to the United States Department of Transport (DOT).
Deena Gianulis Castro and her mother Deborah Gianulis filed the complaint in July 2023 on behalf of Gianulis’ 14-year old son, who has a severe allergy to tree nuts.
The incident took place in October 2022 when the family boarded a flight from San Diego International Airport (SAN) to New York’s John F Kennedy Airport (JFK) to attend a family wedding.
When they were booking the flight, the family repeatedly requested that Delta not serve nuts on the flight. They also asked for an announcement during the flight to make other passengers aware about the allergy.
In the complaint, the family said they were told by the airline that these accommodations would be made. The family made the request once more when they were at the boarding gate on the day of travel. They said that two gate agents and a flight attendant reassured them that the requests would be accommodated.
The family boarded the flight and just as the aircraft was about to pull from the gate, a flight attendant approached them and advised that almonds would be offered as a snack during the flight.
A report by health media outlet Allergic Living said that based on the DOT complaint, the attendant conducted her own research and found that tree nuts “cannot cause airborne reactions”.
The family disagreed with the research, and said that they had previously been on a flight where the teen experienced breathing difficulty because nuts were served.
The flight attendant allegedly told them that they should leave the aircraft if they were uncomfortable.
The family did exactly that, stating in the complaint that the teenager was “humiliated to have to deplane and to have his medical diagnosis publicly questioned”.
Delta backs flight attendant
Delta’s lawyers said that the airline gate agents are not authorized to agree to provide inflight accommodations. Delta gate agents can only communicate and send requests to flight attendants, who have the final discretion whether these can be accommodated or not.
“This is a case about a person with a food allergy whose family voluntarily chose not to travel because Delta cannot and does not guarantee an allergen-free flight,” the airline said in answer to the complaint.
Delta said that the flight attendant acted in accordance with the airline’s regulations on how to handle a food allergy.
The airline’s regulations on dietary needs and allergies listed on its website states: “While we are unable to guarantee a peanut-free or allergen-free flight, we will try to make reasonable accommodations for any traveler’s needs.”
The airline said it allows passengers with allergies to pre-board to provide additional time to wipe/ disinfect seats, tables and nearby areas.
“Though we always aim to work with you to make your flight safe and comfortable, we cannot guarantee a peanut- or nut-free flight or prohibit other customers from carrying nut products aboard,” the airline states.
Allergic Living said that the family is seeking reimbursement of their costs, along with DOT sanctions “for discrimination against travelers with food allergies”.
Delta, meanwhile, is seeking a dismissal of the complaint.