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Reality Star Bethenny Frankel Shares How She Was Shamed When Flying With a Food Allergy

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On Thursday, “Real Housewives of New York” reality star Bethenny Frankel shared on Twitter that when boarding a flight, she realized the airline was serving fish despite the fact she had called several times in advance to make the airline aware she has a life-threatening fish allergy. As a result, Frankel was publicly called out and shamed for her food allergy, an experience many with food allergies can relate to.

According to Frankel’s Tweet, she was told the airline “couldn’t not serve” fish. The airline made the decision to turn around, which Frankel protested as she did not want to delay people to their destination. Her fellow passengers asked for the airline not to serve the fish so they could continue on with their flight. The airline acquiesced, but not before the plane’s pilot made an announcement singling out Frankel. She wrote on Twitter:

Called airline mult x to say I have fish allergy. Got on & they’re serving bass. They couldn’t not serve it they said. Then they were turning around which I protested bc it would delay people. Cabin asked to not serve it & pilot made announcement to plane. That was fun.

There are eight common food allergens — milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. These allergens can cause people to go into anaphylactic shock and can potentially result in death even when an epipen is administered. Some of these allergens are also airborne, so even if not ingested, they can cause someone to go into anaphylactic shock.

While it’s more common for those with a fish allergy to have a reaction when it’s eaten, according to Allergic Living, people who are sensitive to fish or shellfish “can react to tiny aerosolized proteins that float in the air when seafood is being fried, steamed or boiled.”

These reactions are not rare, as people may believe. On Wednesday, police reported an 11-year-old boy from Brooklyn, N.Y., died from an allergic reaction from airborne particles from fish. In December, Frankel tweeted about her own nearly fatal allergic reaction. She was unconscious for 15 minutes and spent two days in the ICU.

Frankel has turned her airline incident into an opportunity to educate people about food allergies.

However, not everyone has been supportive of Frankel. Some have criticized her experience and her fish allergy itself, which prompted the star to defend her stance.

One criticism Frankel faced is that she shouldn’t fly at all to avoid inconveniencing others. Food allergy expert Lianne Mandelbaum, whose son has a life-threatening peanut allergy, told The Mighty it is ridiculous to suggest Frankel should simply not fly anymore or fly on a private plane, an option that’s not even available to the majority of travelers with food allergies.

“Flying can be a necessity for many people,” Mandelbaum said. “There are so many reasons to fly, including getting medical care, business or military service.” Mandelbaum added that people with food allergies should get to have a vacation, like everyone else, and have access to safe travel.

Mandelbaum also explained the difference between food allergies on land and in the air, another common misunderstanding Frankel faced as a result of her experience. In short, food allergies are more dangerous on a plane because you have fewer options.

“You are trapped in a metal tube where you do not have immediate access to medical care,” Mandelbaum said. “In the air, you have no choice to get up and leave.”

Not only is Frankel using her platform to bring awareness to food allergies, she is also speaking out to encourage airlines to stop serving all airborne allergens. She added in a Tweet, “I’ll stay on this until you do.”

In her own Tweet, Mandelbaum highlighted that in Frankel’s case, her celebrity made a difference in how the airline responded to her fish allergy. Mandelbaum stressed there are no policies in place to protect everyone with food allergies in the air, and said that needs to change.

“Food allergies are not a choice.” Mandelbaum said. She added she is thankful Frankel is not just taking this as a personal experience, but standing up for others who have food allergies and committing to work until fair policies are put in place.

Image via Creative Commons/Gina Hughes

Originally published: January 4, 2019
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