A mother whose son suffers a life-threatening nut allergy says her two children were kicked off a Korean Air flight after the airline allegedly refused to accommodate the allergy.
Pooja Patel said her two teenage sons, ages 15 and 16, were traveling alone from Atlanta, Ga. to their home in the Philippines with a layover in Seoul, South Korea, when the incident occurred earlier this month.
The boys — who had been visiting their ailing grandfather in the United States — flew Delta from Atlanta to Seoul, and were set to fly Korean Air, a Delta partner, for the last leg of the trip.
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“My oldest son explained to the gate agents his severe peanut & tree nuts allergy (ingestion and airborne) which is what he does when boarding all Delta flights. He asked if they could not serve peanuts, make an announcement for passengers to refrain from eating peanuts, and board early to clean his seat,” Patel wrote in a lengthy comment shared to NoNutTraveler.com, a website for people with food allergies to share tips and experiences with various commercial airlines. “The gate agent said OK, so they boarded the flight and settled down into their seats.”
Soon, however, Patel said her son was approached by a flight attendant who told him that peanuts would, in fact, be served on the flight “because they ‘must let the other passengers enjoy the peanuts.’ ”
“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. She refused and proceeded to call her supervisor,” Patel wrote.
Then the same gate agent allegedly presented the boys with two options: stay on the plane with the peanuts, or leave the flight.
“The boys tried to provide different options like not serving it around them or moving them to an empty section of the plane, but Korean Air didn’t want to hear anything,” she wrote. “ALL OF A SUDDEN the agent tells them that they don’t have a choice…..they HAVE to get off the plane.”
Patel wrote that her sons initially refused, offering to wear a mask in order to take the flight, but the gate agent did not relent and demanded the boys leave the plane, as “five flight attendants were watching and laughing at the spectacle.”
The teens eventually got off the plane and were put on a flight back to Atlanta.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Korean Air said it was reviewing the incident.
“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 have suspended peanut service on all our flights and are exploring 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 Patel’s experience did not reflect our common values. We are reviewing this incident and will strive to create a better customer experience. ,” the statement read.
Delta, meanwhile, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE: “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.”
The boys’ father, Rakesh Patel, told TODAY Parents that he and his wife are “livid and angry” over their sons’ treatment.
“Instances like these leave an imprint on a young adult. It’s not right,” Patel said. “Personally I would advocate for a ban on serving raw peanuts on any plane — but until that happens, how about using common sense and consistent enforcement of policies? Make an effort to be sensitive to your passengers, which would tell the passenger, ‘We care about your life, we understand you have a severe allergy, and we’re going to take some common sense measures to limit your exposure as best we can.’”
The incident comes two months after The Real Housewives of New York City star Bethenny Frankel slammed Delta, claiming they served cooked salmon on a flight even after she tried to tell them she was severely allergic to the food.
Frankel, 48, claimed Delta told her that fish allergies were not considered airborne.
“We have been in touch with this customer directly to understand her allergy and do what we can to accommodate her needs to the best of our ability,” a representative for the airline told PEOPLE in a statement.