Peanut allergies: Should extreme cases be permitted on commercial flights?

I am currently on a flight from Denver to Baltimore, and they just announced that due to a passenger with severe peanut allergies, no free peanuts will be distributed. Furthermore, passengers are requested to refrain from consuming any food or snacks they brought on the plane that might contain peanuts or peanut products.

Is it a reasonable request, or should passengers with an allergy refrain from public travel? What if I was a diabetic and had brought snacks that contained peanuts to regulate my blood sugar, or other condition that requires frequent dietary intake?
Whose needs should prevail? I say the peanut allergy should find another mode of travel that does not endanger his life (airplanes are probably loaded with latent peanut traces) and intrude on the needs of others.

I’m thinking a person with such a severe allergy should be treated just like someone who has a severely compromised immune system. If a passenger with AIDS can’t demand that everyone wear face masks and sterile gloves, then a passenger with a severe food allergy shouldn’t be able to dictate what everyone else eats.

Really? It’s more important for you to eat a tiny bag of peanuts during those specific 2-3 hours than it is for a peanut-allergic child to take a trip to DisneyWorld or the Grand Canyon?

Well, moving forward an airline can just abandon all nut-based onboard products and switch to other snacks bought from nut-free suppliers, but as the OP mentions, what about other customers who may have brought their own food or snacks aboard, or one who’s “a diabetic and had brought snacks that contained peanuts to regulate my blood sugar, or other condition that requires frequent dietary intake”? In the long-term would we add peanut-based products to the banned-in-carry-on list? One would imagine if the condition is severe enough that someone having a Snickers bar the next row over will endanger their health and safety, notice should be given and medically-indicated providences taken in advance.


Imposing on somebody by asking them not to eat peanuts for a couple of hours is quite different from imposing on them by asking them to wear face masks and sterile gloves.

Well, the anaphylactic shock will make the trip just more memorable for them.

It’s not just one person; it’s an entire flight. Taking your logic further, should we simply ban peanuts altogether in society? After all, the individual benefit from having peanuts is infinitesimal compared to the risk of someone dying, right? No: we recognize that a small but widespread benefit is sometimes better than a large but infrequent one.

I’m not one to say which case is better in this particular instance, but it’s faulty logic to just say that the rights of a child automatically trump those of everyone else, even in the case of very small rights.

Why are we assuming it’s a child, by the way? The OP just said “a passenger”.

If a passenger suffers a dangerous reaction in flight because someone disregards the instructions of the flight attendant, the pilot will be forced to land the plane, disrupting the connections for all on board. Are one passenger’s vacation plans more important than those of the other 150 people on board?

If someone is so highly allergic to peanuts that exposure to extremely tiny microparticles of peanut dust (airborne or through contact) puts them at risk of anaphylaxis*, then they should not be flying without being covered by protective gear and using a respiratory mask.

Given how commonly airlines hand out peanuts (and passengers bring their own peanut-containing snacks on board), it is certain that such minute exposures occur all the time. Even with an unusually dedicated cabin-cleaning crew :dubious: it would likely be impossible to remove all traces.

*the overwhelming majority of peanut allergies are not going to be triggered by nano-quantity exposure that does not involve eating something. I can’t tell from the OP whether such a freakishly rare case is involved, or if it’s a fearful hyper-mommy who is overreacting.

My daughter has a mild peanut allergy, which we tell the flight attendants when we board. They have had differing reactions - some won’t serve peanuts on the whole flight, some won’t serve to the surrounding rows, some have asked passengers to refrain from eating all peanut products. These seem to be individual airline policies or maybe individual flight attendant decisions but I have never asked for any of these accommodations.

This idea that peanut allergy accommodations are often a mother over-reacting is not only annoying, but seems to belittle the whole issue.

I’m curious: has there ever been a documented death or serious illness by peanut allergy from mere exposure (as opposed to ingestion, and aside from unusual situations like a peanut factory)?

From what I can find, reactions to inhaled peanut proteins are rare but potentially could occur. I haven’t found any deaths but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. This is the best review I could find about inhalation reactions and food allergies.

What if you substitute “peanut allergy” for “epilepsy” and ask that there be no inflight entertainment in-case the flashing screen triggers an attack?

Or if someone has a severe phobia to vomit what would happen?

On one hand, I’d say that banning peanuts on an entire flight is a gross over-reaction. On the other however, if someone ate peanuts, and it did trigger a reaction I’d be here pitting the peanut eater for being so damn selfish.

On the third hand, if the airline did serve peanuts, and a reaction did happen - could they be held liable in any way? (remembering that you are much further from a hospital and treatment on a plane than you are almost anywhere else)

And on the fourth hand, if you have peanuts in your carry-on snacks - who the hell is going to know the difference?

Since when do airlines serve peanuts anymore anyway? I haven’t gotten anything but pretzels in probably 20 years!

Yeah, same here. I was honestly more surprised (and more interested in, in terms of discussion) the request that other passengers not eat their own food. Hell, I was halfway wondering if it was policy to ask that to drive more business towards their own in-flight food.

No, but what’s more important is to maintain a general principle that not everyone’s personal need–or perception of how to handle it–must be accomplished at the cost of everyone else’s inconvenience.

Peanut and latex allergies are but two examples of allergies gone awry, and perhaps that should be another whole debate in itself. I will admit that my personal observation is that the secondary gain derived from having dramatic problems that permit control of entire body of people to pander to a personal special need fits in well with certain personality types…

In any case, consider:

Do we stamp out the nut vendors in the terminals?
Do we have planes put through some sort of specialized air cleaning and vacuuming through a microfilter? Stray peanut parts and peanut vapor are not substantially diminished from the flight 30 minutes earlier.

The rise of the allergen-sensitive personality profile should not be allowed to spill over into becoming the public’s fault for non-accommodation.

Advice to the sufferer (or their proxy) controlling the world around them should be straightforward: “Go buy whatever personal respiratory filtration mask you think will protect you from the dangers of whichever exposure is going to kill you, and leave the rest of us in peace, please.”

For those tempted to scold my surly ass on the potentially dangerous nature of severe allergic reactions: A reminder that I speak from a quarter century experience as an ED physician.

Obligatory Louis C.K. reference:

As an adult suffering from food allergies I’ve seen a similar spectrum of reactions.

This actually annoys the crap out of me, too. All my peanut allergy requires is that I, personally, don’t eat peanuts. Sitting next to someone eating peanuts won’t bother me a bit. Getting peanut dust on my skin won’t cause a problem. If I should happen to accidentally eat a peanut fragment the worst I’ll have is tummy upset and maybe some itching. I don’t require special accommodations and if offered peanuts simply decline them or give them to someone else.

But if I say I have a peanut allergy the reaction seems to be that I must be encased in a sterile bubble.

The problem isn’t just the allergy, it’s the reaction of those around me. Which then leads to other people being pissed off about the no-peanut zone, which I never asked for and don’t need or want.

I don’t know where the over-reaction comes from, but there seems absolutely no moderation anymore in these things. Is it over-protective parents? Medical people so used to dealing with the worst-case scenario they no longer accommodate less situations?

My biggest concern is backlash, where, as the OP proposes, I could be permanently banned from air travel due to a medical condition that absolutely does not require that. Please do not protect me to the point of my being under house arrest!

Same here. I thought airlines had done this both to prevent having to deal with the peanut allergy thing and also because pretzels are cheaper. But maybe that’s just because I tend to fly with a limited group of carriers.

I’ve met people who claim to be in the “no peanuts within 20 feet or I have a reaction” camp. I can’t imagine being that sensitive but then IANAD. And such people pretty much always have a supply of epi pens on hand for just such an emergency.