'My heart basically stopped': Couple forced off Qantas flight over chicken meal

Josh Dutton
News Reporter

A Melbourne woman has detailed how she was forced off a commercial flight over a chicken dish.

Courtney Ward, 25, and her partner Anthony Burns were headed to South East Asia from Melbourne in June on a flight with Qantas.

Ms Ward told Yahoo News Australia the trip cost between $6500-7000 and the couple had been planning it for about 18-24 months but it never got off the ground thanks to some satay chicken meals that were set to be served on the journey.

She has a number of food allergies ranging from “mild to anaphylaxis,” she explained.

“The nuts are my worst,” Ms Ward said.

“The airborne part of it means that the smell can set off a reaction and it has done so in the past. So far I’ve had anaphylaxis from peanuts and almonds.”

Courtney Ward, 25, and Anthony Burns had planned to travel to Singapore but had to get off their Qantas flight due to Ms Ward's nut allergy. Source: Supplied

She said despite her allergy she has still managed to travel on international flights previously, and travelled to New Zealand last year.

The 25-year-old said the couple booked their recent trip through a travel agency who assured them she would be okay to travel with the airline.

“We called the airline on Friday (we were supposed to fly out Monday) to confirm we could take our own food and to once again reiterate the severity of my allergy and that their policy was still the same,” Ms Ward said.

“Then Monday rolls around and we get on the plane. I have my mask on, just in case, and we speak to the guy in our row and ask if he was planning on having any nuts and he said ‘no’.”

The couple were then handed menus.

“My heart basically stopped when I read chicken cashew satay with prawns,” she said.

“I then started panicking. My partner was reassuring me that it’s probably just a generic menu and it won’t be what’s on offer, but he’ll check anyway.”

Ms Ward and Mr Burns on board their flight. Source: Supplied

Mr Burns went to speak with the crew while it dawned on Ms Ward that their trip wasn’t going to happen. She was reduced to tears.

The pair were taken off the aircraft. They made a number of phone calls to try and book alternative flights to meet Ms Ward’s health requirements but couldn’t find any.

“We were told to go home and that I wouldn’t be allowed to fly with Qantas without a medical certificate,” she said.

Ms Ward said she was heartbroken and also frustrated in trying to get refunds for the trip.

The couple only got all their money back last month and she now wants Qantas to overhaul its policy.

While Qantas does have a peanut policy - it doesn’t include all nuts. The airline has removed peanuts from all bar snacks and limited the usage of them in menu items.

Qantas recommends bringing allergy medication on board as despite having a number of provisions in place can't guarantee an environment free of allergens. Source: AAP (file pic)

Part of the policy includes “the provision of an extensive range of special meals inflight that are specifically designed not to include peanuts or other nuts, or products of peanuts or other nuts in the preparation of the meal”

However, passengers can still be served a range of other nuts including almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts. In Ms Ward’s case, she’s allergic to all nuts.

In its policy, Qantas added it can’t guarantee an “allergy free” environment in its lounges or on board and recommends carrying the appropriate medication.

A Qantas spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia “is aware of the challenges” faced by allergy sufferers and “take steps to reduce the risk for many of our customers particularly exposure to peanuts but as there are a wide variety of allergies”.

However, the spokesperson said “it’s not possible to cater to everyone’s requirements”.

“As is the case with other forms of transport - like buses and trains – and other public places we can’t guarantee a completely nut free environment,” the spokesperson said.

Yahoo News understands the couple were also told the airline couldn’t guarantee the flight was 100 per cent free of nuts.

Last month, a woman boarding a flight in Argentina also had to leave her plane due to a peanut allergy.

British woman Meleri Williams claims she asked staff to stop serving peanuts due to her severe allergy but they refused - forcing her to travel more than 20 hours via bus to her next destination.

Allergy & Anaphlaxis Australia CEO Maria Said told News Corp she would welcome a chat between airlines and other organisations on how to increase safety for people travelling with allergies.

However, she added it could be difficult for airlines to meet the needs of every common allergen ranging from fish to eggs.

“We need to have a combination of strategies in place like the education of an airline and the person who’s travelling to reduce the risks of allergic reactions because you can never eliminate risk,” she told News Corp.

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