Advocate against nuts being served on planes

Lianne Mandelbaum Isn’t Nuts About ‘Nuts’ On Planes

 

Did you know that the economic costs of children’s food allergies is nearly $25 billion per year? That’s a big number as is the growth rate of food allergies for kids between 1997 and 2011 -- approximately 50% according to the CDC.

 

Alarming? Yes, but even more alarming if you are the parent of a child who suffers with food allergies, especially if the repercussions could result in the death of your loved one. Can anybody quantify or justify the depth of that pain to a family? I think not.

 

And yet, some don’t agree with me...nor mom blogger, Lianne Mandelbaum, who has made it her mission to change the way airlines view nut allergies and their methods of addressing them while caring for planes filled with passengers. Determined to ground nuts from all flights, Lianne Mandelbaum launched No Nut Traveler, a highly informative, interactive blog designed to rally concerned parents to help Lianne compel the airline industry to remove nuts from the friendly skies so that they might actually be “friendly” to all.

 

Lianne’s commitment to her blog and the ousting of nuts from planes arose from a frightening personal experience, which led her to question the rationale of the airlines continuing to serve nuts. She shares her story - and much, much more - in her interview below.   

 

Share your name.

Lianne Mandelbaum

 

What is your personal mantra?

When you give, you live.

 

Share a bit about you and your life.

I live in Livingston, NJ.  I am a mom to three kids.  I am a non-practicing physical therapist and fitness buff.

 

Do you believe you have a life’s purpose, and if so, share it.

My life’s purpose is to be a great mom and wife and to be a person who can contribute to society and help make the world a better place. My parents imbued my sister and I with a sense of purpose and good citizenship.  I hope to pass this onto my children, so that they too may go out in the world and make a positive difference.

 

What is the best part about being a mom for you?

The best part about being a mom is to watch my children smile and, of course, the hugs and kisses.

 

Share the name of your blog and the reason you launched it.

My blog/website is called No Nut Traveler.  I launched it in 2013, when a major airline refused to help me protect my son Joshua, who has a severe peanut allergy.   I believe airlines need to develop a uniform policy for handling passengers with life-threatening food allergies.

 

My own family’s experience made me feel utterly powerless because there was no standard policy I could reference for help. I had to make the hard decision to not get on a plane in order to protect my child, and I don’t want others to be put in that position. My greatest fear is that it will take a fatal tragedy on a plane for change to occur.

 

Note: Nuts were purposely thrown in my son’s direction by children who were going to be on our flight, hence the name for my blog No Nut Traveler. 

 

What is your blog’s primary focus?

The primary focus of my blog is to increase awareness of the seriousness of life threatening food allergies with an emphasis on air travel, and in doing so, influence the airlines and government to create food allergy airline policies that are fair and evenly promulgated throughout the airline industry. I also provide resources and tools so that food allergic passengers can make informed decisions in choosing airlines and mitigate their risk.

 

In my opinion, food allergies are a unique disease and we need those around us to help keep us safe. Without educating the greater public, those in the airline industry and government do not understand the potentially fatal nature of this diagnosis and inadvertently can put the food allergic passenger at risk. Travel by air is a unique situation for those with food allergies, because they are in an enclosed space that is far away from immediate medical care.

 

One of my proudest accomplishments on my site is my collection of testimonials from food allergy families.  I share these testimonials with lawmakers, the media, and food allergy advocacy groups.

 

My site has a petition that calls for a 'Bill of Rights for Food Allergic Passengers' that, to-date, has about 80,000 signatures.  There are also links to connect people to the DOT (Department of Transportation) and their respective legislators.  I wanted to make it easier and more convenient for our voices to be heard.

 

Share any awards or recognitions you’ve won.

In 2013, I received the 'FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education)Leadership Award' for my launching of No Nut Traveler and my ensuing advocacy work concerning food allergic passengers.

 

Are you a Brand Ambassador?

I have chosen not to be a brand ambassador, or accept money, including any advertisements on my website.  It is important for me to be seen as impartial when it comes to food allergy policy and airlines. When I lobby for easy to use auto-injectors to be standard on airlines to replace unlabeled vials of epinephrine currently on board, I don’t want to promote one brand over another.  I also don’t want to be seen as promoting a specific food brand to be served on an airline. As a food allergy mom, I do try lots of delicious nut free and top-eight allergen free products (and some companies do send me samples), but I only talk about products I think would be great snacks for travelling families or that my family has tasted and enjoyed, including those that have been served to me in the air.

 

Do you blog for additional blogs, resources, etc.? Please share.

I am a contributor for Huffington Post. Being a blogger for Huffington Post has given me a voice to debate the current issues surrounding food allergies and a confidence to write my own articles about my personal experiences and perspectives as well.  It has been a tremendous opportunity to raise awareness in the greater public eye.  I have also published two original articles on the site Robyn O’Brien and written an article for Allergic Living Magazine.

 

How active are you on social media? Which has been your most successful platform to-date?

I must confess that before I launched No Nut Traveler, I knew almost nothing about social media.  I did not even have a personal Facebook account. I had never heard of Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or LinkedIn.

 

Nowadays, I sit tirelessly everyday spending hours on social media. One of the stories that was written about No Nut Traveler on Yahoo was because I used LinkedIn to connect with a producer. I shared my airline experience with him and he had a reporter call me.  

 

I would say the most useful social media outlet for me has been Facebook. I have garnered almost 14,000 followers and it has been an amazing outlet to get my message out.  I would follow that in order of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Care 2 (the organization where I launched my petition). There is so much I need to learn about social media but I am only one person as well as a mom of three, so, many times, there are just not enough hours in the day.

 

To give you an idea of how this has overtaken my life, I personally get back to every person who asks me a question, needs advice, or has a bad flying experience.  I catalogue and enter all testimonials sent my way, post on my site and social media, submit blogs to Huffington, take part in Airline Coalition Meetings, and attend conferences in the US and around the world.

 

What advice would you give to other moms and dads who may be interested in launching a blog?

If you have a passion, don’t let your fears of failure, criticism or the thought of being just “one mom” scare you from starting your own blog and getting your message out there.  One person can make such a difference.  Before I started making noise, the food allergy airline issue was barely on the back burner in the media.  Today, partly due to my advocacy, change is on the horizon.

 

Do you work outside of being a blogger and a mom?

I am a licensed non-practicing Physical Therapist with a masters degree in Science from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.  I have been teaching a variety of exercise classes since college.  Since beginning my blog, I have ceased teaching and concentrate fully on my goal of making air travel safer for those with food allergies.

 

Do you support a social cause or cause-based organization?

I have always been passionate about children, food, hunger and poverty.  I was on the board of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Essex County for approximately seven years.  This not-for-profit organization provides shelter, professional support services, and housing assistance so that homeless families can find and sustain a new home. These families are housed in churches and synagogues throughout Essex County.  I am no longer on the board but continue to be a coordinator of the program at my own synagogue.

 

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is a social worker. I launched a toy drive for children who had no source of gifts for the holidays.  These children were all sexually abused and received therapy at The Metro Regional Diagnostic Treatment Center (Metro RDTC) in Newark, NJ.  At present, along with two friends who help me, we make sure that every child in the center has a holiday present to open.  We raise all funds for the children ourselves, coordinate the lists from the therapists, and wrap and deliver the items. It’s our 6th year and we were featured on Huff Post Live this past year.

 

I also volunteer my time to the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) by co-chairing the Annual Gala in NYC with my mother-in-law.  As an advocate attending conferences, I have seen, first-hand, the important work this organization is doing to educate those in the restaurant and travel industries, as well as in our schools.

 

I am also a member of a FARE led coalition that includes Allergy and Asthma Network and Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This coalition presents a unified voice regarding the steps that the airline industry can take to better accommodate passengers with food allergies.  Our coalition championed Bill S1972 introduced in August 2015 in the US Senate. This bipartisan bill addressed several important areas of concern for the food allergy community, not just the accessibility of epinephrine and auto-injectors, but also providing for a study by the US Government Accountability Office that would help guide future work on airline policies that would better accommodating passengers with food allergies.  Although this bill did not pass, our coalition remains committed to achieving these aims.

 

When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as a person who inspired a movement to make air travel safer for her son and others like him who suffer from life threatening food allergies.

 

Suffice-it-to say, given the monumental increase in allergies by children in such a short period of time and the potential harm nuts on planes can do, I, for one, am willing to give up my nuts in exchange for a safer alternative. It would be ‘nuts’ to think otherwise, in my opinion, when considering the many - less confined - places you can eat them without, potentially, imposing harm on another.  

 

Far be it from me to compromise the safety and welfare of my fellow travelers. And so should say the companies charged with transporting over 3.3 billion passengers each year -- whether the culprit be nuts or anything else that gets in the way of safe and secure travel.