Peanuts close up
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Two Teenage Boys Removed From Airplane Due to Peanut Allergies

Two teenage boys — who were 15 and 16 years old and traveling by themselves from Atlanta to Manila after visiting their ailing paternal grandfather — were removed from an airplane by members of a flight crew because one of the brothers is severely allergic to peanuts.

Two Teenage Boys Removed From Airplane Due to Peanut Allergies

Rakesh Patel is based in Manila because he is working on a temporary assignment there; and his sons were traveling to meet him there. The family alerted Delta Air Lines of the aforementioned severe allergy to peanuts of the eldest son prior to traveling — members of the flight crew of the airline complied with the request on the first segment from Atlanta to Seoul…

…but despite the proactive communication, one member of the flight crew aboard the airplane for the second segment from Seoul to Manila — which was operated by Korean Air — “tells my son that they will be serving peanuts on the flight because they ‘must let the other passengers enjoy the peanuts’,” said Prajakta Patel — who is the mother of the boys — according to this article which was posted at The No Nut Traveler. “So, my son explains to her that it is life threatening and he would appreciate if they don’t serve raw peanuts. He kept trying to make them understand that serving peanuts around him could put his life at risk because he could go into anaphylaxis shock. She refused and proceeded to call her supervisor.”

After her son is told that the members of the flight crew cannot accommodate his request so as not to deprive other passengers of their peanuts, they “gave our boys only 2 options….either stay on the plane while they serve peanuts to the other passengers or get out of the plane.” After the boys reportedly attempted to be flexible and provide different options — such as not serving peanuts around them or moving them to an empty section of the airplane — they were then told that “they don’t have a choice…..they HAVE to get off the plane. Now imagine the shock they must have felt at that moment. They refused and told the agent that they need to get home to Manila. My son said he would wear a mask risking his own life just to get home.”

A passenger reportedly “tried to intervene and scolded the agent that what he was doing was absolutely wrong. The agent didn’t relent and told the boys they must get off the plane while 5 flight attendants were watching and laughing at the spectacle.” The mother alleged that “the agent had the audacity to pull my son’s shirt to ‘encourage’ him to get off. They felt threatened and given recent events of passengers being physically assaulted and dragged off the plane they worried about how this could escalate. So the boys decided to comply and get off the plane.”

Approximately 39 hours after the trip started, the boys were back in Atlanta — despite having the option of continuing on to Manila with Philippine Airlines and possibly risk a similar experience. The family has reportedly filed a complaint with Korean Air, with a request for at least a refund.

Statements from both airlines were received by WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta. Here is the statement from Delta Air Lines, with which an investigation into what actually happened had been launched…

We’re sorry for this family’s ordeal, particularly during what is already a difficult time for them. Delta and our partner Korean Air are communicating with the family and examining the processes surrounding this incident; we will use our findings in our work to create a consistent experience for customers flying Delta and our partner airlines.

— Delta Air Lines

…and here is the statement from Korean Air, which is reviewing what had actually occurred with regard to this incident and vows that it is striving to create a better customer experience:

Korean Air is aware that peanut and food allergies are an industry issue and no airline can guarantee a food allergy-free environment. But we are reviewing ways to deal with this issue in a safe and feasible way. We totally understand the risks faced by passengers with nut and food allergies and will certainly try to accommodate them better in the future.

Korean Air has apologized to Mr. and Mrs. Patel and their sons. Customer service is a mainstay of the Delta and Korean Air partnership and we regret that the Patel’s experience did not reflect our common values. That is not our style and we can and will do better.”

— Korean Air

Allergy Statistics

“Private insurance claim lines with diagnoses of anaphylactic food reactions rose 377 percent from 2007 to 2016,” according to data from FAIR Health, which is a national independent nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing transparency to healthcare costs and health insurance information. The study “found that peanuts were the most common specifically identified food causing anaphylaxis, accounting for 26 percent of those claim lines. Tree nuts and seeds followed closely at 18 percent. Also common were egg allergies, crustacean allergies (e.g., allergies to shrimp or lobster) and dairy allergies, making up, respectively, 7 percent, 6 percent and 5 percent of claim lines. The most common category, however, was “other specific foods” (33 percent), which typically means the food causing the anaphylactic reaction is unknown.”

This infographic from FAIR Health gives an illustration of a growing health concern pertaining to anaphylaxis.

allergy infographic
Source: FAIR Health.

Another study from 2017 “shows that slightly more than half of American adults report developing at least one food allergy after the age of 18.” The findings were drawn from a population sample of greater than 40,000 adult Americans.

“Once a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) starts, the drug epinephrine is the only effective treatment”, according to this article of facts and statistics from Food Allergy Research and Education, which is an advocacy organization that works on behalf of the approximately 32 million Americans who suffer from food allergies and includes 5.6 million children younger than the age of 18, with peanuts, milk and shellfish among the most common foods.

In other words, one out of 13 — or almost 7.7 percent of — children are affected with a food allergy.

Other interesting facts and statistics include:

  • Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room.
  • Each year in the United States, 200,000 people require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food.
  • Childhood hospitalizations for food allergy tripled between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s.
  • Approximately 40 percent of children with food allergies have experienced a severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis.
  • Greater than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions.
  • Eight major food allergens — milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish — are responsible for most of the serious food allergy reactions in the United States.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.


“This one really takes the cake. The Today show asked me to connect the family for a piece — fingers crossed for mainstream coverage. Thought you might be interested too” is what Lianne Mandelbaum — who is the founder of The No Nut Traveler — wrote when she first communicated this story to me on Saturday, March 23, 2019, which is when I first learned of it. However, the raw unedited article which she passed on to me was written by the mother of the two boys and did not have enough objective information at that time, as I wanted to learn more about this incident.

The story eventually did get plenty of mainstream coverage, as Rakesh Patel wants to raise awareness on how airlines could do a better job on minimizing the risk as much as possible for passengers who suffer from food allergies so that no one would have to endure what his sons experienced.

Airlines who are partners should strive to ensure that fair policies related to passengers with food allergies are as consistent as possible to avoid situations such as this one involving the Patel family from happening in the future. Currently, every airline has its own policy which sufferers of food allergies need to check.

In the meantime, passengers who do suffer from food allergies should consider informing the passengers who are sitting next to them about their allergies; carrying an emergency allergy kit which contains epinephrine autoinjectors, oral steroids and antihistamines; bringing food from home rather than consuming the food served by members of the flight crew aboard the airplane; and bringing their own wipes.

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

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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