Jun 23, 2010  •  In Food, Personal, Travel

Peanuts on Planes

Today I read that the DOT is considering a ban on in-flight peanuts.

This made me very sad for two reasons:

1.) I can’t remember the last time I was offered a package of peanuts on an airplane. And I used to love those suckers! Watch/listen to this hilarious clip from a stand-up show by Ellen Degeneres, circa-1992:

If you don’t have time for the full 6½-minutes clip, just listen to the first two minutes and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. (And if you have the time, I highly recommend that you watch the entire thing — it’s one of my favorite stand-up scenes of all time!)

2.) According to a quick web search, only 0.04-0.06% of the population suffer from severe peanut allergies. I get that those with severe allergies can be affected by just the inhalation of peanut dust, or even the transference of peanut oil via armrests, napkins, etc. However, a federal ban on peanuts on planes in order to accommodate this tiny percentage seems a bit harsh to me.

I mean, there are people out there who are severely allergic to perfumes. Should the wearing of perfumes be banned on planes as well?

What do you think about the DOT’s proposed ban on in-flight peanuts?

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21 Responses to “Peanuts on Planes”

  1. Amanda says:

    Just as a thought exercise, what if it was your baby girl who was allergic? My coworker’s son is allergic and he has to move seats to get away from the smell so he doesn’t get sick. They have a special table in the lunchroom because there are enough kids in the school with allergies to require one.

    I’m all for banning peanuts on planes. I can eat pretzels so the kid in 3B can be not vomiting for the next 3 hours.

  2. Geek in Heels says:

    @Amanda β€” If my baby girl were severely allergic (to the point of inhaling peanut dust would cause reactions), I would take precautions such as informing the airline ahead of time of the allergy, carrying extra wipes with me, carrying masks, and always having an epi pen on hand.

    I would also avoid air travel (or any situation where we would be in a confined space for long periods of time) as much as possible.

    When you really think about it, there are SO many places and situations where one comes in contact with peanuts, or any allergen for that matter. And no matter what precautions I take, no matter how much the public adapts to our needs, accidents are bound to happen. So call me cold-hearted, but I don’t believe that the public needs to make special accommodations for my daughter’s allergies. This is the way my parents treated me and I plan to do the same for my children.

  3. Amy says:

    I think they should put labels on planes that say "may contain nuts" and that’s the end of it. πŸ˜›

    Seriously, this is a bit harsh though. There are flights that do not serve food…just bring your kid on those.

  4. Aaron says:

    Ellen’s right that those peanuts were always the highlight of the flight. It’s a silly issue in either direction; I can live without them, but I miss them! And yeah; to pass a law to protect less than 1% of the population…well, that’s extreme.

    To the question re: parenting, I’ve always wondered why the number of sever peanut allergies has increased so drastically in recent years. But at any rate, I wouldn’t refuse to send my child with bee allergies to a friend’s house because they REFUSED to spray for bees. I would make sure they carried appropriate medication so they learned to be prepared rather than try to live their entire life in a bee (or peanut) free environment. Which is impossible.

    I would be satisfied if there was a box to check when you buy the tickets for "peanut allergy". Right next to the one for "Kosher food" or other special dietary requirements. And if that individual flight needed to be peanut free, fine.

    For that matter, a better solution overall would probably be to ask for ANY important medical information it would be useful for flight attendants to know. There are lots of allergies or medical conditions that could become problems at 30,000 feet.

  5. Tek says:

    People should know their allergies and how to live with them. Which means having epi-pens, masks, wipes, knowing what to eat and not eat and generally how to protect themselves. Also people should know how sensitive they are, some have minor reactions and some have deadly reactions. At the same time, in flight snacks are a perk that isn’t necessary, as much as we love them. People might just start bringing their own peanuts.

  6. Kara says:

    Hey, just to look at this from another angle. Even though the actual number of people with peanut allergies is currently small, the rate of peanut allergy diagnosis has actually been increasing over the last 10 years. Here’s an article with more info. http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/639092.html

    This means that the actual number of people with allergies will likely continue to increase year over year and the people with these allergies will be children. Although you’ve quoted a small percentage of people with the allergy, the rate among children is much more significant (2-3%). And given the tastiness/death tradeoff (especially on a plane, in the air, far from help should there be a reaction) caution seems like the right strategy.

  7. sandy says:

    I support the decision to stop serving peanuts on airplanes. It’s a confined space so while a person with severe peanut may be able to reasonably limit their exposure if a few people decide to snack on peanuts during the flight, it’s much more difficult when the peanuts are being passed around by the flight attendants to all passengers around you. Although strong perfumes are annoying, I don’t think anyone can die from smelling too much perfume.

  8. Ella says:

    I disagree. It really seems a bit too much to ban peanuts on airplanes because of allergies. people with allergies and their parents can always take precautions to avoid this. If my kid had allergies I would think twice about flying and would certainly not expect the entire world to accommodate my kid.

  9. Jen says:

    I don’t believe it greatly inconveniences me to not be offered peanuts, especially when the alternative is that it might cause a severe allergic reaction in someone else. Peanut allergies seem to be particularly dangerous, especially because they can be triggered by the airborne peanut particles.

    On the one hand, people should be responsible for their own allergies and those of their children and take precautions and the good of the many shouldn’t be compromised greatly by the needs of the very very few. But, I don’t think that being served peanuts is a fundamental right, so I’m pretty sure I can do without.

    Personally, I’m more upset about the baggage fees and the people who can’t seem to figure out how to go through security (and I’m ALWAYS stuck behind those people) πŸ™‚

  10. Palila says:

    I like peanuts. I can’t eat pretzels or the granola bars or the cookies they offer- wheat makes me vomit. And something like 1 in 133 people are like me, what with the gluten in wheat, barley and rye causing intestinal damage, whether they know it or not. So I love when I’m offered peanuts on a plane because it’s a snack I can eat (and ask for extra, for my next flight). Sure, my food issue isn’t going to cause me to stop breathing in the short term, but secondhand contact can still make my next couple of days miserable.
    I also know that many airlines will, if you tell them of a peanut allergy, enact a "peanut-free zone" around those that are allergic.

  11. Tracy says:

    I am allergic to peanuts, and I applaud the proposed ban. As for the rest of the population that isn’t allergic to peanuts, I don’t understand why it’s that big of a deal to ban peanuts. There are plenty of other snack foods that can be distributed instead. Its not like you’re going to die if you don’t have peanuts, whereas people with allergies could die if you do.

  12. Tracy says:

    One additional note, I always carry my EpiPen with me, but that doesn’t entirely stop the anaphylactic reaction if it has started. It just buys you some time until you can get to an ER. And how am I supposed to think twice about flying when I have family scattered around the country? Am I supposed to just stay where I am and make everyone come to me? Not leave the confines of a drivable radius? I don’t think that simply telling someone with a peanut allergy to avoid flying is a reasonable alternative.

  13. Geek in Heels says:

    @Tracy β€” I think that most people who are opposed to the ban isn’t opposed to not having peanuts (because as much as I love those peanuts I can live without it), but rather the implications behind it, thinking, "What will they ban next? What other accommodations will the general population need to make for the small minority?"

    In addition, while I can certainly see your point about wanting to fly without worrying about your allergies, what about others who are severely allergic to substances other than peanuts? Should we make accommodations for them so that they can freely travel without worries as well?

    I don’t think you’ll have much to worry about anyway, because I’m pretty sure hardly any airlines offer peanuts anymore, with or without the ban. πŸ™‚

  14. Daphne says:

    Hi, I’ve been following your blog for quite a while, but this is my first time posting a comment.

    I’ve suffered from peanut allergies (among other allergies) my whole life, although my reaction is extremely mild compared to other’s. I’ve flown many many long haul flights since young, and I’ve never alerted the airlines to my allergies as I know how to deal with the various reactions (and my reaction is not as bad as it seems.) That being said, I have eaten the food served and despite making sure there are no nuts involved, I have suffered from what I suspect to be cross contamination. Let me just say that suffering through the remainder of a 19 hour flight is not fun. I can only imagine that someone with a more severe reaction would suffer more – even if an epi-pen is used, how does one immediately go to an emergency room, as Tracey said?

    While I feel that the ban on peanuts is harsh, I feel that it may be the easiest thing for airlines to do to handle possible public uproar or even lawsuits – rather than attempting to implement peanut-free sections, or taking note of who has allergies, or making sure flight crews know how to deal with anaphylaxis. Sometimes what seems extreme is a result of ease of execution.

    I agree with jenny, tek and other commenters saying that people who live with allergies should know how to handle and deal with them, but do consider the event that you take extra care to not consume or come into contact with the nuts, only to encounter them through cross contamination of your peanut free dish because someone accidentally dropped a bit of salt from a peanut bag into your dish. If you had a severe reaction and your throat swelled shut immediately and you were only 2 hours into your 19 hour flight, what would you do then?

    Sorry for taking over your comment page Jenny! I’ll go back to lurking now. πŸ™‚

  15. Ivy says:

    First, let me just make it clear that my child has a very very severe peanut allergy that literally goes off the scale of the severity chart…just keeps going beyond the testing numbers, and I have never ever asked for a ban on anything anywhere. He’s been taught from a very early age not to put anything in his mouth not checked by certain trusted adults, and now at age 13 he is very skilled at handling this issue with little need to ever even let people know about it much less intrude on their lives or their diets.


    I think it’s pretty harsh that anyone would put their desire for a stupid pack of peanuts before a human life. Sad and harsh. Drop a couple of quarters in a vending machine on the way out of the airport if you need those calories so bad. And here is the problem. Peanuts will kill a person before the plane lands, but it’s harsh not to let you have them…but second hand smoke that a person is exposed to on a plan MIGHT have some impact on their heath sometime in the future if it’s the only second hand smoke they are exposed too, so it’s not allowed. So you get your peanuts, and everyone else gets to smoke? Deal?
    Yeah…I doubt that would "fly"
    It’s incredible to me it’s even up for conversation, I’m astounded that any one put with the dilemma of having a bag of peanuts vs endangering a human life would think it over and say, "screw them, give me the peanuts." Take a minute and imagine…really imagine the scene in your minds eye….you demand your stupid peanuts…and then a commotion, a mother in panic…a beautiful little child is blue and dies. Dies. You are now stuck on the plane with their dead body and their grief stricken mother. And YOUR peanuts did it. This sweet and beautiful child on the way to visit her grandparents is now cold and dead and going to be buried in box and never have a life ….and you got your peanuts. Let me just tell you now…you can make all the adjustments in the world and you can even not fly if you or your child has this allergy, I elected not to fly with my severely allergic child and never have. What you might not understand is that you don’t always know about it. In fact, the person that might have a life threatening reaction on the plane might be YOU. You don’t learn this is affecting you or your child at birth. You usually learn about it due to a reaction taking place and the first one can kill you. Of course peanuts are "all over the place" and exposures can happen anywhere and you should always have your epi pen, but "all over the place" isn’t the same things as being in a closed in space with recirculated air at 35,000 ft. possibly somewhere over the center of the pacific ocean. But whatever..I’ve got news! All I have to do is call ahead to the airline and make the request and you won’t get your peanuts on a flight I’m on anyway and it’s been that way for years and years. Tough shit. Harsh? My kid dies, you have a tasty snack with the bitter after taste of guilt. That would be harsh. Oh…but what would be even more harsh is if you choked to death on the peanuts. That would be harsh. I’m just sorry, I can’t get to a place in my heart of caring about your desired snack over someone’s life. Tomato – TomatO

  16. Ivy says:

    In response to your update and the questions you pose.

    As for the government enforcing regulations that only protect a small percentage of the population, are you serious? The overall world average for the percentage of the female population that are victims of forcible rape is 0.6% and the percentage for the same group in the U.S. only is 0.4%. The estimated percentage of people in the U.S. that suffer from peanut allergies is approximately 2.0%. I’m going to just assume we are all in favor of a airline ban on rape, even though statistically speaking many more people are affected and harmed by a peanut allergy. My point is that this slippery slope issue is getting thrown around way to much these days. Laws, rules, moral ideologies and such are usually, and should be, set into place not solely by the number of people negatively impacted by something but also by the tragedy, injustice and or negative aftermath that is the result for ANY number of people.

    To address that many more people die on the ground as opposed to your research that says no one has died in the air due to a peanut allergy reaction. I hope that is true, but I don’t know how many people have had a reaction but didn’t die. There is also another element to that idea that is flawed. Like I said earlier, I have intentionally refrained from flying with my child particularly when he was very little and more "into everything". I don’t have any numbers on it, but I would guess that I’m not the only one that has taken that option. That will reduce the number of likely deaths by removing the affected population from the environment being analyzed. Then you factor in the number of adults that are flying on their own with a peanut allergy. How many of those have just simply elected not to eat on a plane at all out of concern for cross contamination? That could be a big deal or not depending on the length of the flight, but my guess is that it’s a regular occurrence given the fact that I’ve witnessed my son make a choice not to eat while others where eating in situations because there was no way of being sure if it was safe for him, so he would rather not eat than risk serious injury or death. I imagine this line of thinking would be even more likely to occur to someone with a peanut allergy while on the confines of a plane if it will occur to a child in the presence of a group of adults including his parents while also in a reasonably close distance of emergency medical attention. So remove those people from the equation as well. It’s just not going to be an accurate way to access the situation.
    As for banning peanuts on planes completely, no I would not be for that because then you are getting into the issues of individual rights vs. the reasonable responsibility of a vendor to provide safety to it’s customer while providing a service to them. I also said in my first post that I’ve never asked for a ban on anything anywhere. That includes my sons school. When he was little the other parents were made aware, they were given a list of known problem items and a list of good substitutes items. But that was it, they were never directed or asked by me or anyone else not to send in a particular thing. In all of his years in elementary school there was maybe 3 or 4 times a parent sent in something unsafe. Each time it happened I received a phone call from the parent telling me that they were so sorry that they simply forgot about it. It was never a big deal, but the point is that when given the choice MOST people with choose to protect others. MOST, not all.

    No, I wouldn’t think it was necessary to ban all known or common allergenic foods from airlines. Peanuts are the only one that is so closely associated with airlines that it’s an issue anyway, but the real reason is that milk isn’t likely to become airborne in dust form. However, sure I would be fine with them taking anything out of and off plane food menus that would harm anyone. There is nothing that I can’t live without for the hours I’m on a plane and if your right about the quality of the food and the instances of food borne illnesses resulting in death from airline food then maybe they shouldn’t be serving food, but if they are they need to make sure it’s prepared properly and doesn’t make people sick regardless of allergies or not. So yes, if they can not provide safe food then they shouldn’t allowed to serve it, not anymore than a restaurant that continually killed it’s patrons via food poisoning should be allowed to remain in business.
    You asked, and those are my answers.

  17. Geek in Heels says:

    @Ivy β€” I suggest that you voice your opinions at Regulations.gov if you haven’t already.

    Perhaps the airlines providing the option of allergen-free flights might be a better (and fairer) solution, because even if this ban on peanuts passes, there is no stopping other passengers from bringing and consuming peanuts in-flight. Having allergen-free flights (or at least most commons allergens) will provide support and comfort for all who suffer from common allergies, not just those with peanut allergies. If you make accommodations for one allergy group, it’s only fair that you make similar accommodations for those with others.

  18. violarulz says:

    I’m allergic to peanuts. Not swell-up-and-die-from-anaphylactic shock (though I do carry an epipen, just incase), but they make me itchy all over and make my tongue feel fat. Anyway, I think a ban on peanuts is a great idea because the smell of peanuts makes me feel queasy and sometimes really nauseous, I’m that awful person on Delta who has to check the "no peanuts" button when checking in so that there aren’t any in my row or the row in front or behind me and everyone can always figure out who it is who has the peanut allergy and give me the stinkeye. I’m sorry, but would you rather watch me get airsick, or live without peanuts for 3 hours? Thankfully, this is only a problem on domestic flights, international flights have a lot more brains. Even the Thai food on Thai airlines is peanut free!

  19. violarulz says:

    Thinking a bit deeper into the issue, I wonder how people with really sever allergies can safely travel? Even if an airline doesn’t serve peanuts, some people are allergic enough to have a sever reaction to peanut oils left behind by someone else. Do they wear gloves and long pants/sleeves when out in public? It must be really scary to know that you could get sick for no apparent reason at any point out in public! Maybe we just need peanut free planes, and ban all peanut products from even being brought onboard. I’d fly at inconvenient times just to know the guy next to me won’t be munching on a "poison sandwich" (PB&J).

  20. Geek in Heels says:

    @violarulz β€” That’s what I was wondering too! I would imagine that those with severe allergies avoid flying. All I know is that if I had a child with severe peanut allergies (or any other allergy for that matter because peanuts are not the only airborne allergen that has the potential to be deathly) that sent him/her into anaphylactic shock just from breathing peanut dust or touching peanut oil residue, I would NOT let him/her fly. That’s that. Even if there were a complete ban in place, it would be impossible to enforce (ie, Joe Passenger munching on a bunch of peanuts right before boarding and not washing his hands or dusting off his clothes).

  21. Ivy says:

    I’m not sure which concerns your referring to that I should voice to the web site, as I was only commenting on the questions, I don’t particularly have any concerns. Just giving my opinion. The suggestion that you make is exactly the route I’ve taken in regards to flying. I just haven’t taken my allergic child on any planes and have no plans to. I do realize that at some point that might not e a viable option for one reason or another but that will be a bridge to cross when we come to it. Yes, you are also right that it is very very frightening to live with the fear of getting very sick or even dying for no apparent reason, but no, you can’t go around in long sleeves and gloves everywhere, you just have to be as aware as possible and be prepared. I think I live in a more heighten state of fear than he even does though because I’ve been just as worried about making him a neurotic mess and or turning him into that "allergy kid" Hopefully I’ve done the right thing and he’ll always have a healthy respect for the reality of the situation yet not disregard it but will give it the weight it does deserve. As a teenager now, it seems like he has a handle on it, he doesn’t think about it on a daily basis or live in fear but when he finds himself in a position to possibly be exposed he starts making reasonable decisions and choices internally. I think that this particular subject brings up a lot of emotion specifically for the parents of children with the allergy vs. the person with the allergy because as the parent your dealing with a worst nightmare situation coupled with lack of control. While we control our babies environment to a large degree, as they age we control it less and less until they are fully out of our physical control; I guess it sort of like how people feel fine driving fast but get nervous when they are the passenger in a car going just as fast. The topic brings the instinctual and overwhelming need to protect your child to the forefront of your mind, but you don’t need to become a lunatic about it, you just have to add it to list of all the things in the world that most parents worry about and you hopefully for the sake of the kid you learn how to manage that without screwing them up. But at the need of the day, I don’t care what they ban on planes, peanuts or whatever, they could take all of it off or leave it all, because it’s just the same problem in a different location, the rub being the availability of medical attention. For me what has been troubling about the issue the idea that some people really feel that it’s unfair to leave them off, and I realize there are all sorts deeper issues one can apply but maybe it’s better not too do that, and to just look at the basics. When you can’t please all people it’s probably better to err on the side that will not cause injury, be that peanuts on a plane or whatever the case may be. It just seems like a unbalanced argument. The trivial vs. life and death. I certainly do hope that the people in the position to make these decisions make a good one, and I’m just glad that I’m not one of those people. So, while it’s still my decision to make, he just doesn’t fly.

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