The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has recently ordered that Air Canada a nut-free buffer zone on all its flights, following complaints from two passengers with severe nut allergies. Nut allergies tend to be more intense than other allergies, and in extreme cases, even being in the same room as a bag of peanuts can set off a bad reaction. Now imagine that room is a small flying tube — you can’t just leave the room for fresh air.
I’ve always wondered why peanuts are the go-to snack for airlines, given that so many people have such harsh allergies. Severe nut allergies are rare, but not pink diamond rare — so on any flight with 100 or more people, there’s a good chance that someone on board has some degree of nut allergy. I’ve heard of flights having buffer zones, or offering alternative snacks when someone on the flight has a severe allergy, but in all my time flying, I’ve never been aware of a nut buffer in effect on one of my flights.
Even if an airline doesn’t serve nuts on a particular flight, what’s to stop the passengers from bringing on nutty snacks? The idea of the buffer zone is that passengers in certain seats are not allowed to have nuts, so that an allergic person can safely sit in that region. Most airlines seem to have vague nut policy guidelines, where the crew will try to accommodate a passenger with severe allergies by asking other travelers to create a voluntary buffer, but those with allergies are not satisfied with these practices. Sophia Huyer, one of the passengers that complained about Air Canada, says she wants all nuts banned from all flights.
This sounds like an extreme demand, but given the extreme nature of the allergy, I’ll stop short of slamming her for it. Still, there will always be issues of some kind. There are more than just nut allergies in the world. Maybe travelers should stop using soap or wearing deodorant to protect those passengers who are allergic to the chemicals in these artificially scented products…that would make for a fun flight, wouldn’t it?
I think the answer is not a ban, and probably not even a new official, legal policy — that would only make the ticketing process more complicated. The key is understanding, sensitivity, and flexibility on both sides of the issue. Airlines, just like any other business, should be willing to accommodate customers with special needs, but it should be the responsibility of the one with special needs to communicate those needs in advance. I don’t see how this needs to be any more complicated than keeping a backup stash of pretzels instead of nuts and making a couple of friendly requests over the PA at the beginning of the flight.
I’m curious if anyone here has ever experienced this peanut buffer zone. Are there airlines that have them in effect all the time, or is it only at the request of a passenger? I’d also like to hear from anyone with super severe nut allergies — would a buffer zone be enough, or do you need a completely nut-free flight?