Two unaccompanied teenage minors, ages 15 and 16, were left stranded in South Korea after being booted from their flight from Seoul to the Philippines before takeoff.
The sons of Rakesh and Prajakta Patel had gone to visit their grandfather in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, and were on the return journey to Manila, where their father is working a temporary job. They were making the transatlantic trip on their own.
The return trip began with a 14-hour Delta flight from Georgia to Seoul, South Korea. This first leg of the journey went fine, but their travel plans took a turn for the worse when the boys attempted to board a second flight from Seoul to Manila with Delta partner Korean Air as a result of one of the boys having a deadly peanut allergy.
Prajakta Patel, the mother of the teens, had informed Delta of her older son’s severe peanut allergy ahead of their big trip, so the brothers were shocked when a gate agent told them that peanuts would be served in the high skies. The boy’s allergy is so severe that even airborne particulates from peanuts could be extremely dangerous.
After explaining the situation, the teens were allegedly told that they could either take the flight or exit the aircraft and miss the trip. Though the Patel’s sons chose to board the plane, they were soon booted off.
“The gate agent came on the plane and told my sons to get off,” Mrs. Patel said. “One of my kids was shaking — they’re alone in a different country. Where were they supposed to go?” Mrs. Prajakta claimed that the gate agent even pulled on her son’s shirt “to encourage him to move” off of the aircraft.
Confused, the teens found themselves back in the gate area and told flight officials that they were willing to sit in the back of the plane with the brother with nut allergies wearing a mask. Despite their offer to compromise, a gate staffer reportedly told the boys that were not allowed to get back on the plane that was now “closed.”
Shaken, the boys called their parents, who tried to help them get to Manila without success. The mother spoke with a Delta representative who told her the boys could fly on a different carrier, however, not knowing other airlines’ nut policies, it was decided to fly the boys back to Atlanta, Georgia, on Delta.
Mrs. Patel is pushing for more than just an apology with the hopes that airlines will improve their employee education policies on nut allergies. She has filed a complaint with Delta and Korean Airlines and is reportedly seeking a refund.
Delta and Korean Air issued the following statements regarding the matter: “We’re sorry for this family’s ordeal, particularly during what is already a difficult time for them. Delta and our partner Korean Air are communicating with the family and examining the processes surrounding this incident; we will use our findings in our work to create a consistent experience for customers flying Delta and our partner airlines.”
A spokesperson for Korean Air, too, offered similar sentiments: “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 are reviewing 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.”