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Girl with peanut allergy ‘thrown off flight by captain’

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A 12-year-old girl with a peanut allergy was thrown off a flight at Gatwick Airport with her family after the captain refused to ask passengers not to eat nuts for her safety.

Nick Mollom, 48, told The Telegraph that he, his wife and their two children were ejected from a SunExpress flight after asking the crew to take his 12-year-old daughter’s allergy into consideration on a 3½ hour journey to Turkey.

He said the family is now out of pocket by almost £5,000 as a result of having to make last-minute bookings with another airline and rearranging their accommodation.

Speaking from Dalaman, Turkey, Mr Mollom said: “It’s just unbelievable that in 2024 this can happen. Just amazing.”

The incident happened on Tuesday night as the family tried to board a SunExpress flight to Dalaman, on Turkey’s south-western coast.

Rosie, the Molloms’ 12-year-old daughter, has a peanut allergy. She cannot be near the nuts in case she suffers a type of allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock.

Anaphylaxis is cited as a possible cause of death for between 20 to 40 people each year, according to the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Cabin crew ‘didn’t really care’

Mr Mollom said the family’s problems began when he booked the flight, saying he could not find any way of notifying the airline about Rosie’s allergy.

On arriving at Gatwick, Mr Mollom said the SunExpress check-in desk told him to inform the cabin crew. SunExpress’ website says, on its onboard menu page: “Once on board, please inform our cabin crew about your allergies.”

But the cabin crew, Mr Mollom claimed, “didn’t really care” when he requested an announcement was made to ask other passengers not to eat nuts.

“They just said the captain has refused to do this. And he will not make any sort of announcement. It’s not his policy or company policy to do this.”

The captain, claims the family, locked himself in the cockpit and issued orders through the cabin crew.

“They just kept trying to say that the captain would not come out and discuss this, the matter was closed,” said Mr Mollom.

“We then said, ‘okay, well, that’s fine. It’s not a big plane. There are not masses of passengers here. We can just gently tell people what’s going on.’

“Georgie, my wife spoke to the first two rows. It was quite amazing… a couple who had been sat behind us, originally in the middle of the plane. They had heard our conversation with the cabin crew member who came over, so they’d gone to the back of the plane and started telling people what was going on.

“Everyone’s attitude was great – ‘of course, no problem at all’.

“But the captain then caught wind that communication had been made to other passengers. And he just said, right, ‘bags off, kick them off’.

“Our flight was due to leave at nine and I think everybody was on at 8:45pm. But my wife and I were at the front saying, ‘okay, well, why can’t you make this announcement’ and so I think tensions were building within the cockpit because we weren’t sat down.

“We hadn’t just gone and accepted the fact that our daughter would have to sit there and hope that no one is serving peanuts and eating them, or opening peanut products.

“They just said, you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.”

‘Shocking and unacceptable’

Rosie, who is still processing the humiliation of being escorted off the flight and out of the terminal, said: “I was treated like I had done something wrong by the crew only for having an allergy.”

Mr Mollom resolved to try and speak to the captain before leaving the aeroplane.

“I needed him to look me in the eyes and tell me why we have to leave because of my daughter having an allergy,” he continued, explaining that he knocked twice on the cockpit door “and then people got very angry and told me I mustn’t do that… ‘you cannot disturb the captain’.

“I very politely said, well, he’s definitely disturbing us.”

A SunExpress spokesman said the airline takes its passengers’ safety “very seriously”.

“Shortly after boarding our flight from London Gatwick, Mr Sollom raised a concern about one of his family group having a serious peanut allergy and requested an announcement to other passengers.

“We refrain from making these kinds of announcements as, like many other airlines, we cannot guarantee an allergen-free environment on our flights, nor prevent other passengers from bringing food items containing allergens on board.

“Due to the insistent behaviour of the passenger to others on board that they should not consume nuts, the captain decided it would be safest if the family did not travel on our flight.”

The spokesman alleged that Mr Mollom had “banged” on the cockpit door to try and gain access to the flight deck, something he strenuously denies.

Nadim Ednan-Laperouse, OBE, co-founder of The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, the UK’s food allergy charity, said SunExpress’ actions were “shocking and unacceptable”.

His daughter Natasha died in 2016 after eating a baguette on an airline flight that contained sesame seeds which were not marked on the label, prompting a fatal allergic reaction.

“Food allergies are an illness, not a lifestyle choice,” he told The Telegraph.

“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. We often hear from families with food allergies who tell us their awful stories about airline travel. This is worrying as the world is becoming ever more allergic.

“The airline should immediately re-appraise the way they engage with food-allergic customers and make their policies clear on their website,” added Mr Ednan-Laperouse.

SunExpress said it is reviewing “information provided during our booking process to ensure more effective solutions for passengers with allergies.”

Recalling how a member of airport staff helping the Molloms off the flight told him about a similar incident where a passenger suffered a reaction and caused the flight to be diverted for medical help, Mr Mollom sighed: “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Figures from the Food Standards Agency show there are now 2.4 million adults in the UK with a diagnosed food allergy.

A recent medical trial found that giving children tiny amounts of peanuts and milk to treat allergies can help reduce the severity of reactions, potentially helping to save lives.

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