16-year-old with serious peanut allergy removed from plane and stranded in South Korea

Elise Solé

Korean Air and Delta Air Lines apologized to a family after their son, who has a serious peanut allergy, were stranded with his little brother in a foreign country.

Rakesh and Prajakta Patel’s 15 and 16-year-old sons were traveling alone from Atlanta, Georgia, to Manila, Philippines (where their father is temporarily located for work) after visiting their elderly grandfather in the hospital. The boys were booked on a Delta flight to Seoul, South Korea, with a Korean Air connection to Manila. (The two are partner airlines).

The Patel’s eldest son has a serious allergy to peanuts and all tree nuts. As pro travelers, they all carry multiple Epi-Pens (portable devices that inject life-saving epinephrine in the event of anaphylactic shock), communicate with the flight crews and wipe down their seats for peanut dust. But this was the boys’ first flight without their parents.

“We only fly Delta because they have been so accommodating with my son’s allergies,” Prajakta, 41, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But the connecting flight was new, so we were nervous.” 

The teens had a smooth flight on the 14-hour Delta leg. But in Seoul, the Korean Air flight attendant allegedly said that peanuts would be served, after a gate agent said otherwise, moments beforehand.  

According to Prajakta, her sons were told they could either endure the flight with peanuts or leave the plane. “The gate agent came on the plane and told my sons to get off,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “One of my kids was shaking — they’re alone in a different country. Where were they supposed to go?” She says the agent tugged on her son’s shirt to encourage him to move. 

Back in the gate area, the teens offered to sit in the back of the aircraft with the older one wearing a mask. Prajakta says her sons started walking back toward the plane but the agent nudged one of her boys with his elbow, closed the gate door, and said, “Now it’s closed.”

The boys called their parents in Atlanta. “We were frantically calling Delta to help us figure it out,” Prajakta tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They said the boys could fly a different carrier, but we didn’t know their nut policy, so they flew Delta back to Atlanta.” 

A week later, the boys are in school and the family filed a complaint with Korean Air, requesting refunds for the flights. 

Korean Air tells Yahoo Lifestyle in a statement:

“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 sincerely apologizes 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 Patels experience did not reflect our common values.  We are reviewing this incident and will strive to create a better customer experience.”

And Delta tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “We’re sorry for this family’s ordeal, and we are working with our partner Korean Air to examine the processes surrounding this incident. We will use our findings to create a consistent experience for customers flying Delta and our partner airlines.”

Flying with peanut allergies isn’t foolproof, Prajakta tells Yahoo Lifestyle, but she wants airlines to improve employee education. “It takes a village to spread awareness.” 

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