Hudgell Solicitors are representing a woman who says she feared she was dying in front of her family after suffering a serve allergic reaction to sesame seeds contained in a chicken wrap on a British Airways flight.
Sonia Bagga, 39, says she felt like a ‘rope was slowing tightening’ around her neck as she collapsed to the floor within minutes of taking just two bites.
She suffered an anaphylactic shock – a rare but severe allergic reaction that can be deadly if not treated immediately – because she had eaten the sesame seeds, an ingredient she is severely allergic to but had not been included on labelling.
Mrs Bagga, of Winnersh, Wokingham, had to be rushed directly to hospital after landing at Heathrow airport, where doctors told her she had been lucky not to have suffered severe brain damage, or even died.
Now, the mother-of-two has instructed Hudgell Solicitors’ specialist travel litigation team to investigate whether British Airways failed in its duty of care to passengers.
“It was the most frightening experience of my life, I thought I was going to die in front of my husband and children,” said the senior sales and events executive.
“It was an instant reaction. I had two bites into the wrap and then I knew something was wrong. I had a sudden tingling in the back of my throat and then it felt as though my throat was closing up, like someone had a rope around my neck and was slowing tightening it.
“I went straight to the back of the plane to find a stewardess and asked what was in the wrap, but they didn’t know. I asked if there were sesame seeds in it, as it is the only thing I am allergic to, but they couldn’t give me an answer.
“I remember my legs giving way as I became weak and I was really struggling to breathe and wheezing. The staff looked panicked and they made some phone calls before confirming that it did have sesame seeds in.”
Mother careful about food choices but expects clear labelling on foods
Mrs Bagga, who days earlier had been swimming with dolphins on a week-long holiday in Dubai with husband and children aged 14 and nine, says she is always careful about her food choices given her allergy.
However, she says she expects clear labelling on any foods such as nuts, seeds and dairy products, for which many people are allergic.
“They offered vegetarian wraps and chicken wraps, and as we are all meat eaters I said we’d all have the chicken,” she said.
“They just came in a plain wrap with no warnings at all over any potential allergic reaction or details of ingredients. That usually means they are plain and safe for people with allergies.
“I am extremely careful and won’t ever eat bread with any kind of seeds on it, even though it is only sesame seeds that I am allergic to.
“This wrap looked completely plain. I’d only had two bites though and I knew something was wrong. I then opened it up and feared the worst. It all happened so quickly, that was the frightening thing, it was like the air was being squeezed out of me.”
Two Epi-pen injections prevented ‘brain damage or death’
With a doctor fortunately on board, Mrs Bagga was given an Epi-pen injection of medication used in emergencies to treat very serious allergic reactions by improving breathing, dropping blood pressure and reducing swelling of the throat.
She was then moved to the first class section of the plane, with paramedics placed on standby at Heathrow to provide immediate care on landing and rush her to London’s Hillingdon Hospital. Thankfully, the flight was less than an hour away from landing.
Mrs Bagga was given a further shot of adrenaline on landing and she was put onto an intravenous drip at hospital, where she remained until doctors were happy to send her home, having seen her blood pressure drop and breathing return to normal.
“I’ve been told that the two Epi-pen injections I was given were crucial and that had they not been given at the right time, I could have been brain damaged or even died. I obviously can’t remember everything that happened as I lost consciousness at one stage,” added Mrs Bagga.
“To go through that in front of your children was absolutely awful. My husband has since told that he could tell that I was fearing for my life and how I had tears running down my face.”
Legal specialists say responsibility ‘squarely on British Airways’ to highlight allergens
Mrs Bagga has now turned to Hudgell Solicitors to investigate her case with British Airways.
Anne Thomson, who is representing Mrs Bagga, said: “Our client says she informed the airline of her allergy when checking in for her flight in Dubai. Whether this information was passed to cabin crew, we do not know.
“The number of food allergy sufferers rise every year and that means businesses of all forms which are serving foods including common allergens such as dairy products, nuts and seeds and shellfish need to make sure they are clearly labelled.
“When Mrs Bagga raised concerns as she was struggling to breathe, staff were not even aware of what exactly was in the food they had served and couldn’t answer her questions.
“That itself is a major concern. Staff should be aware of any potential allergens in the food they serve, and the business should ensure they are clearly marked on labelling. To miss any of these elements is potentially exposing people to risk.
“The regulations are very clear in this area in that businesses supplying food to the public must make consumers aware of any allergens. The responsibility is squarely on them, and rightly so. There should always be appropriate labelling and clear warnings.”