Toronto woman seeks compensation after allegedly being denied on a flight over nut allergy

Turkish Airlines planes sit at Istanbul New Airport, Turkey May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A Toronto woman wants to be compensated after she was refused boarding on a recent flight from Turkey, allegedly over her nut allergy.

Norine Khalil and her husband were set to fly home from Istanbul last week on Turkish Airlines. Prior to her flight to Turkey, she said she reviewed the airline’s allergy policy, since she knew they had served peanuts in the past. It instructs passengers to inform the airline about any allergies before flying. So Khalil informed the check-in staff about her allergy, which they made note of, but no nuts were served on the plane.

Things weren’t as seamless for the return flight from Istanbul. When Khalil informed the counter staff about her allergy, the language barrier made things challenging.

They instructed her not to eat on the flight and she assured them she wouldn’t as she always packs her own meals when flying. She was then told to sign a document, which she was unclear about.

After a male employee spent a lengthy amount of time on the phone, he informed Khalil and her husband they wouldn’t be boarding the plane. When she pressed him for more information, the staff member told her they needed 24 hours notice.

“They cut it short and said if we had any problems, we’d have to talk to customer service and the ticket sale centre, and change our flight,” she told Yahoo Canada. “I asked if we’d have to pay to change our flight and we were told yes, there’d be a penalty.”

From that point, Khalil and her husband were “ping-ponged between ticket sales and the customer service phone line,” which told them to fill out a complaint form on the airline’s website.

When the ticket sales agent told them there was nothing they could do except pay for a new flight, Khalil said the couple ended up spending USD $1,800 for return flights home the next day. They were also told their accommodations and other costs wouldn’t be covered.

Khalil said the whole situation baffled her more than anything.

“I fly all the time and yes every airline has different protocol with it - either they don’t serve nuts or they notify the rows around me - but it’s never been this extreme,” she said.

In an email, Gabor Lukacs with Air Passenger Rights explained that passengers are normally expected to provide a 48-hour notice of nut allergies and then the airline has to accommodate. Denying Khalil from flying may have been a safety decision, but only if the airline was unable to accommodate her on that flight.

“Even then, I do not think that it was reasonable for the airline to charge
her to change her ticket,” Lukacs said. “The airline should have put her on the next
available flight where they are able to accommodate her.”

Khalil understands that some airlines require up to 48 hours notice about food allergies, but that it usually applies to specific meal requests.

“I explicitly explained to them that I do not need a special meal because even if I’m given a special meal, I don’t trust it,” she said. “There’s so many pieces of this that makes me feel like we were wronged.”

Khalil tweeted the airline at the airport, which they responded to promptly and told her they’d be in touch within seven days.

When her story started getting press, the airline emailed her with a case number and requested hotel receipts.

“There was no indication of them even looking into reimbursing for the flight,” she said, though she did get an automated message informing her that her case was being reviewed.

Turkish Airlines could not be reached for comment.

In June, a British man with a nut allergy experienced a similar situation with the airline. Josh Silver was cleared to fly by check-in staff before boarding a flight to Antalya, Turkey from Gatwick. On the way back, he was cleared again by check-in staff but when he told cabin crew as an extra precaution, police arrived to escort him off the flight.

Silver and his girlfriend were told they could buy return tickets home, but they opted to travel with another airline.