For most travelers, peanuts are a favorite snack: tasty, easily portable, and nutritious to boot. But for a growing portion of the population suffering from nut allergies, peanuts represent a potentially deadly threat – especially within the confines of an airplane. For some sufferers with a particularly strong allergy, even inhaling peanut particles in the air can trigger a mild allergic reaction.
Should peanuts be banned from airlines altogether? That’s the center of this ongoing debate, which came to a head last summer when the Department of Transportation proposed a series of measures to protect allergic sufferers from peanuts on planes. While the DOT stated that it would not take any action until a comprehensive, peer-reviewed study on the dangers of peanuts on planes was released, the proposed measures include a complete peanut ban or a “peanut-free” buffer zone around any allergic travelers…
The suggestions came as a surprise to the peanut industry, says Patrick Archer, President of the American Peanut Council. According to Archer, only two carriers still distribute peanuts to passengers, and those that do already have policies in place to make sure that allergic passengers can notify the airline ahead of time.
In addition, Archer said, peanuts were the only food targeted by the DOT. “If they are going to put out regulations on food allergens, we think it should be comprehensive, taking into account all food allergens,” Archer pointed out…
“We have smaller families, do not live on farms, use many treatments to prevent or treat infection,” pediatrician Scott Schirer said. “The thought is that our immune system is ‘looking for something to attack,’ and may erroneously attack harmless foods, pollens, animal danders and the like…”
“If you want to ban peanuts on airplanes, you still would not be able to effectively enforce that regulation, since people often bring their own snacks on board,” Archer said. “A ban might create a false sense of security for allergy sufferers.” According to Archer, the existing policies aimed towards educating passengers about the risk of peanuts for allergic sufferers suffice without any further legislation.
The only folks I know offhand with dangerous allergies are the two classic: bee stings and shellfish. Those folks are bright enough to examine their surroundings, what food they get near and, in the case of bee stings, carry an injectable remedy.
The rest of us probably should continue to have access to peanuts. It’s part of the Southwest Airlines mystique.