A Montreal woman has sent Air Canada a legal letter demanding compensation and intends to pursue the airline in small claims court after she was kicked off a flight because she wasn’t carrying her EpiPen.
Zella Leroux-Gillespie, 26, is allergic to almonds and has been dealing with the allergy for the past 10 years. She can be around them, but if she eats them, her body goes into shock and she can’t breathe.
Leroux-Gillespie was escorted off the flight on her way home from Costa Rica last year for not having her EpiPen, which was stolen during her trip.
She was originally asking for about $2,100 for the humiliation and embarrassment that ensued when she was told to leave the plane, in addition to the extra costs she incurred to get home from a trip last year.
But she now says she may revise that amount upward to cover her legal bills, but says she won’t ask for more than $5,000.
Leroux-Gillespie said she wants “justice” for what happened to her.
“I want to get my refund and make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
‘They weren’t responsive, they weren’t listening … I was so in shock and traumatized for getting kicked off.’ – Zella Leroux-Gillespie
Air Canada is standing by its policy, which requires customers with severe allergies to bring necessary medication to ensure their own safety and well-being.
Stuck in Costa Rica
In January 2017, Leroux-Gillespie went to Costa Rica for a solo backpacking trip to celebrate her birthday. Days before she was due to leave, she was at the beach and decided to take a swim.
She left her things unattended. Someone stole her EpiPen and $50 worth of cash while she was in the water.
Days later, seated on her flight home, she noticed there were almonds on the menu before the flight took off. She said she asked the flight attendant whether the packaging is sealed, trying to determine whether the food on the flight was cross-contaminated.
Leroux-Gillespie said she told the flight attendant about her allergy, and said she wouldn’t eat for the duration of the five-hour flight if there was no guarantee the food was safe for her to eat.
Leroux-Gillespie said she told the flight attendant her EpiPen had been stolen.
The flight attendant then left, saying she had to speak to her supervisor. Another passenger chimed in, saying she had an EpiPen should Leroux-Gillespie need it, she said.
When the flight attendant returned, she informed Leroux-Gillespie that since she had an allergy and was travelling without an EpiPen, she couldn’t stay on the plane because it may jeopardize the flight.
Leroux-Gillespie said she mentioned the other passenger who offered the use of her EpiPen, and reiterated that she would not eat, still hoping to find a middle ground.
The other passenger was allergic to mangoes. The flight attendant said nothing on the menu contained mangoes, but wouldn’t relent.
Leroux-Gillespie said that is when she started to panic.
“I’m like, this is a nightmare, I’m going to wake up from it.”
© John Li/Getty Images An Air Canada passenger plane touched wingtips with another plane after landing at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
Poor customer service, woman says
She saw the flight attendant’s supervisor as she was retrieving her carry-on bag and asked whether she could speak to the pilot or anyone higher up, she said. She started to cry.
The supervisor started talking to her so loudly, she said, that other passengers started to stare.
Leroux-Gillespie said he berated her, saying she was irresponsible and that she couldn’t stay on the flight.
She was given the number for customer service and told she would have to arrange a new flight home herself. She believes she was treated poorly by the airline’s staff.
“They weren’t responsive, they weren’t listening … I was so in shock and traumatized for getting kicked off.”
In a statement, Air Canada said it reserves the right to take action up to and including denying boarding to passengers where there is a risk of a medical emergency or who put their safety at risk.
“We do this in the best interests of the safety and well-being of the affected individual as well as those of other passengers on board. Our website and tariff both state that passengers are responsible to bring an auto-injector with them if they have a severe nut allergy,” it reads.
After she got off the plane, Leroux-Gillespie saw a doctor who gave her a prescription for Benadryl — she was told EpiPens aren’t sold in Costa Rica. She was able fly home the next day, on an Air Canada flight.
She filed a complaint with Air Canada and was told the company was sticking to its rules.
Air Canada planes have medical kits on board that contains vials of epinephrine, the injectable drug contained in EpiPens.
But it’s unclear who would administer the shot in case of an emergency. Leroux-Gillespie said planes should have EpiPens instead, which contain doses that are safe to give people.