A family is claiming Turkish Airlines removed them from a flight because of their six-year-old daughter’s peanut allergy.
Essex-based Eren Dervish was travelling to Cyprus with his wife and two children for the May half term when the incident happened.
They had planned to fly into Larnaca with British Airways, then fly out from the north side of the island, Ercan, via Turkey to reach London Heathrow.
“My six-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy, so I tend to call in advance and tell the airline,” Mr Dervish tells The Independent.
“I called BA and Turkish Airlines the week before the holiday – so two weeks before our Turkish flight. BA said, ‘no worries, you can just tell staff at check-in and we will make the announcement and not serve nuts’. Turkish said it was registered against our booking and staff would be informed.”
That is exactly what happened on British Airways, but Mr Dervish says when the family arrived for their Turkish Airlines flight – TK961 on 5 June – it was a different story.
“I got to the airport to check in and mentioned it as always – but the crew member couldn’t seem to understand what I’d said.”
Mr Dervish is of Turkish heritage and can speak a bit of the language. “I know the word for peanut so I know they discussed it,” he adds.
However, he says: “Once we got on the plane, our crew member started asking some strange questions – like, ‘How far away can someone be, eating peanuts?’”
“I said, ‘It’s an aeroplane, it’s airtight. Can you just not serve peanuts?’ They said, ‘Oh well, the captain and senior staff want to continue to serve peanuts.’”
Mr Dervish says he talked to staff onboard and offered to go and talk to the first class passengers, of which he estimates there were around 12, to explain the situation and request they refrained from eating nuts for the 90-minute hop.
“A man from airline operations then boarded, took me off the plane to stand on the steps,” he said.
“He said, ‘If you want to fly on this plane you have to sign this piece of paper that you take all responsibility if anything happens to your daughter’.”
The family was shocked. Mr Dervish said he has never encountered this response from any other airline, and that Turkish Airlines had not informed him of any such policy when he rang ahead of the flight.
“If something terrible happens, that’s anaphylactic shock, death,” he adds.
He said he would not sign a waiver, but instead offered to write down exactly what had happened at each stage of his booking. He says staff then went away and made phone calls, before another man boarded wearing a high visibility vest.
“Eventually they said your luggage is on the runway, you need to leave the plane. They said: ‘We have six security guards waiting outside.’
“Staff weren’t aggressive, but they were trying to convince me we were in the wrong. At this point my wife and kids are crying, they’re traumatised. My six-year-old knew it was about her,” says Mr Dervish, who pleaded with Turkish Airlines crew to at least let them disembark without the intimidating guards.
“They wouldn’t even let me take the piece of paper they’d asked me to sign – they said they had torn it up,” he adds.
The family was removed from the flight and told to sit in an immigration office, where Mr Dervish says he could hear several police officers sitting around discussing them but not talking to or assisting the family.
When he got to the Turkish Airlines desk in the terminal, he was shocked to find that the airline would not offer them any assistance with continuing their journey.
“The customer service guy said, ‘No – because you were ejected from the plane, you need to fill in paperwork, go away for two days and then we’ll review it’. I thought they’d have us on the next flight to Istanbul so we could get home.”
In the end the family bought new flights home for the following day with British Airways. As the next flight departed from Larnaca, 164km away, Mr Dervish also had to cover a £130 taxi between the two.
The family’s car was at Heathrow, while their rearranged flights were to Gatwick, and their dog was in kennels for another day, further adding to the costs.
“We’re talking more than £2,500 for all extra costs – not to mention the £700 for the flight I was kicked off,” he says.
“Even with that we missed work – my wife’s a teaching assistant for kids with special needs; she and I each missed a day of work and the kids missed school.”
Since then, Mr Dervish says he’s only been able to submit a standard online complaint form about the incident. He’s contacted the airline on two social media platforms as well as email, but only received one email back.
“On Sunday we got an email saying, ‘We couldn’t find anything about the allergy against the reservation, but we take allergies really seriously’.”
“I definitely let them know two weeks before – I’ve got a call log entry proving I phoned.”
“I understand an administrative error could happen that didn’t put this on my booking in advance, but I also let them know at check-in,” he adds.
“What bothers me is the moral stance of: ‘We’re going to kick the crying six-year-old off so we can serve peanuts in first class’.”
Mr Dervish said they didn’t have any problem registering the allergy on their swiftly arranged flight back from Cyprus with British Airways.
Again, the family informed staff at check-in, an announcement was made on board asking all passengers to refrain from eating nut products, and no nuts were served by the airline.
“We’ve never had a problem with any other airline, you can usually tell them at check-in, but on this occasion I had made the effort to say something in advance,” he says.
The Independent has approached Turkish Airlines for comment.
In the FAQs section of the airline’s website, it states: “Our snacks offered on our flights may include nuts and peanuts. If passengers with nut allergies provide information through Turkish Airlines sales channels up to 48 hours before their flight, the menus of passengers are loaded accordingly. However, there will be no changes to the menus of other passengers on board.
“If passengers with hazelnut and peanut allergies state their allergies via Turkish Airlines sales channels up to 48 hours before their flight, food with allergy-inducing ingredients will not be taken on board.”
It’s not the first time the carrier has been accused of penalising passengers with allergies.
In 2019, Turkish Airways hit the headlines on two separate occasions after kicking nut allergy sufferers off flights.
In June that year, Josh Silver, 25, was flying from Antalya, Turkey, to Gatwick with his girlfriend when he notified a flight attendant of his condition.
He was told to leave the flight immediately shortly before take-off. When he refused, armed police boarded the aircraft to escort the couple off.
Meanwhile, in September, Norine Khalil said she was left feeling “devastated” and “helpless” after Turkish Airlines denied her boarding and forced her to pay almost £1,500 for new flights because she told them she had a nut allergy.
The 32-year-old dietician and nutritionist living in Toronto was returning to Canada from Istanbul after celebrating her sister’s wedding when the incident occurred.