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November 15, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
No more peanuts on airplanes?
The U.S. Senate Transportation Committee advanced a resolution earlier this month calling for U.S. airlines to adopt policies regarding peanuts. At a minimum, the resolution says airlines should announce that someone on the flight has a peanut allergy. Other measures might include not serving peanuts to passengers and asking passengers not to eat peanut snacks they've brought on board and allowing family members of a person with peanut allergy to wipe down seats surrounding them.
Some airlines apparently do have these policies in place; others refuse to make such announcements or allow parents to wipe down seats. According to The New York Times, a couple of parents were kicked off flights in the last year, along with their peanut allergic children, when they made the request. In one case, a flight attendant told the mother that the airline would need a medical clearance for the child before permitting him to fly, since the mother had claimed the child could die if exposed to peanuts in the cabin. The mothers were outraged and are lobbying for airlines to adopt policies to handle peanut allergies. Parents who ask for these accommodations usually make the argument that other members of the public should be glad to give up peanuts for a few hours for safety's sake. What is mere inconvenience for one person is life or death for the person with the allergy, they say, and their child's right to live trumps someone else's right to eat a peanut butter sandwich.
While I sympathize with people who have such severe allergies, I think it is unreasonable for families to demand that airlines make such accommodations for peanut-allergic people, particularly since some people are equally allergic to such common foods as dairy, eggs, strawberries, tree nuts or bananas. Clearly, it is not possible to ban all of those foods from a flight or ask other passengers not to consume snacks that contain these common items. But once an airline has decided it shall be a "peanut-free" flight, the parents of children who are allergic to milk, eggs or bananas will likely demand similar accommodations for those allergies. There would probably be more lawsuits filed by parents if an airline did agree to make such an accommodation and a child still had a reaction because the airline's precautions weren't thorough enough.
Last May Alisa Gleason, a Sacramento woman, sued United Airlines because she had an allergic reaction when a fellow passenger began munching peanuts brought from home.The flight was diverted and she ended up hospitalized for two days. In the lawsuit, the woman claimed that United had promised her peanut allergy would not be a problem and the airline could make an announcement asking people not to eat peanuts, according to an article at farecompare.com It is also unreasonable to expect other passengers to refrain from eating food they have brought on board, particularly if it is a long flight and they have no other snacks on hand to feed their hungry children. The passenger who ate peanuts on Gleason's flight probably felt terrible when she had her reaction and the flight was diverted. Maybe she would have avoided eating the peanuts if she had known about Gleason's allergy. On the other hand, she was a paying passenger too and there was no real reason why she should have been required to give up her candy bar or whatever it was if she didn't want to.
Things might have been different if the flight had been designated a "peanut free flight" when all the passengers bought their tickets. That way, everyone would have known in advance to bring alternative snacks or to try to book another flight. Airlines could likely make some money if they did choose to designate certain flights or certain planes as peanut free, but only they can decide if it is cost-effective to do so. For now, I agree with airlines who say that a person who is that deathly allergic to peanuts (or to any other common food) probably should not be on an airplane in the first place.
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