Should we ban peanuts on airplanes?

I’m sure most of you food allergic parents are  aware of the news story circulating that federal regulators are considering restrictions or even an outright ban of peanut products on U.S. commercial flights. The U.S. Transportation Department announced this week they are taking a second look at arguments presented by food allergy advocates, sufferers, and the food industry. You may recall 12 years ago Congress shot down a proposed peanut food ban on U.S. flights.

While I am not a fan of the media’s play on words with these food-ban type stories (“It’s not nutty to allergics”) I do appreciate that this issue is getting some serious attention from the USDOT and mainstream media. It’s always amazing to me that food ban stories get non FA people so riled up. They think their rights are violated, and respond accordingly with verbal fights for the right to eat nutty trail mix and peanut snacks. People are so afraid of banning peanuts because they think other food bans will follow suit, and soon everything and anything will be banned.

I don’t advocate food bans in general environments (exception is my son’s classroom, which isn’t a lunchroom and shouldn’t be. It’s a learning environment, but that’s another story). Food bans provide a false sense of security that there are no allergens present. One cannot know if someone just wolfed down a PB and J and failed to wash their hands before stepping into the “banned room”. Also there are so many types of allergies (milk, soy, legumes, eggs, etc. ) that if you start eliminating one food, there will be arguments wanting to eliminate others. I understand this and have always made sure my FA son knows how to keep himself safe when eating at school, camp, play dates and even restaurants.

But I feel very differently about peanuts on planes. Peanuts and peanut products should be eliminated from the snack choices on commercial flights. Peanut particles in reciruculated cabin air can cause reactions, and a severe reaction 30,000 feet is a much different story than a severe reaction at a baseball park. Seriously, there is no comparison. Martin Kanan, CEO of King Nut Companies (a major supplier of peanut products on U.S. airlines) commented “What’s next? Is it banning peanuts in ballparks?”. It’s an ignorant comment that has no relevance to banning peanuts on airplanes. It’s clear he’s worried about his company’s profitability, and I completely understand that. But if he happened to have  a child with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and nuts, I’m sure he’d think differently.

All the major airlines have cut  back on food service in general, and if they do offer an in-flight snack, why not just swap it for a less hazardous one, like fresh fruit, or carrot sticks, etc.? Is it really that big of a deal to make this simple change, that could potentially keep millions of food allergic people safe, and possibly bring more families back on planes who have been avoiding them?

It seems so simple, yet it is so controversial. What are your thoughts?

32 Responses

  1. I think you are absolutely right about having an severe reaction in an airplane being much, much, much different than while pretty much anywhere else (well, close to a hospital anyway).

    I think peanut products, because so many people severe reactions, should definitely be eliminated by airlines. But I think it should be an airline movement and not an overall ban.

    The all out ban causes a problem because 1. people are crazy, 2. people will automatically put a negative spin on it, 3. the people with other severe food allergies may be negatively affected.

    It doesn’t matter what food you’d recommend as the replacement for the airlines food snack, I’m sure we could find a group of people that are in the same boat as the peanut people allergy wise.

    When I read your fruit idea, all I could think was if bananas were served on an airplane every day it would probably make flying impossible for my husband. That fruit on the hands of children, rubbed on the seats, all over the bathroom doors and faucets would pretty much ruin it for him. I think it would be liken to them serving peanut butter on the airlines. It would have the potential for being smeared everywhere.

    I think drink sevice only is a much better bet. Let people get their own food in the airport or bring from home. That way the airlines aren’t contributing to the hazard and it turns it pretty much into a lunchroom deal.

  2. oh I should say, if the airlines decide to ban peanuts, then they tell the people peanut stuff should be on the plane (because of the airborne issue). That would mean not bringing that stuff from home (especially peanut butter) and then no more selling trail mix with peanuts in the airport. Sucks for the peanut companies but they will figure it out, they always do.

  3. Re:peanut regs on airlines: Just ban them. Period. Peanut allergy is not like seasonal allergy- it’s not itchy eyes, it’s DEATH! In a study from Children’s Memorial Hospital, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago showed that most people are not aware that food allergies have NO CURE and NO TREATMENT-the ONLY treatment is to avoid the food. That isn’t possible for someone with severe allergies on a plane surrounded by peanuts. It’s not as easy as “just don’t eat a peanut.” Some people are so allergic that peanut residue from their seat’s previous occupant or those sitting around them may may them fatally ill.

    A “Buffer Zone” will not stop a child from finding a stray peanut between seat. Reaching for a dropped toy, between cushions where a vacuum could not fit, a child can get to where the cleaning crew didn’t. The peanuts can be left over from a previous flight. For those who claim it’s an infringement on their rights, it’s not. It’s protecting citizens. Smokers said the same thing. Peanut residue is like second hand smoke, it’s second hand food. I don’t choose to smoke and people agree that others shouldn’t be forced to “smoke” by proxy, being stuck in a metal tube with recycled air. In the same way, someone eating peanuts near by can make others sick. If there were to be a serious reaction, it would take too long to land and get help.

    For those who claim it doesn’t effect very many people, the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology states 3Million Americans have peanut allergies and according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America peanut allergy is the most common cause of food related death. A study from Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that the rate of childhood peanut allergies more than tripled from 1997-2008. I would applaud any increases in air safety for ALL travelers! My family would love to fly, but it is unsafe for my preschooler to do so. Those of us who eat peanuts could refrain so someone else might not be trapped in a plane, unable to breathe. Is your snack really worth someone’s health? A TOTAL BAN is the only answer.

    The Department of Transportation (DOT) is seeking public comments on a variety of airline-related issues, including ways to accommodate passengers affected by peanut allergy. Let the DOT hear from you today!

    To see the Federal Register notice, and to submit a comment electronically, click the link below:

  4. I agree with a previous poster who thinks that peanuts should be eliminated from flights, but not by a legislated ban. I think it should be an airline decision.

    I also wanted to mention that in regards to ballparks not selling peanuts as Martin Kanan remarked, our local MLB team recently had a special peanut-free zone reserved for families with allergy sufferers. It was cleaned and decontaminated prior to the game for peanut-allergic families. Sure, it’s just one game, but at least they’re being pro-active about it and trying to make an effort at allowing FA kids to enjoy games too.

  5. OH MY GOSH, YES. BAN THEM. This is why we do not fly as a family: we have two children who are allergic to peanuts (among many other things–and it looks like our third is highly allergic, too, so I’m assuming peanuts will be among her allergens). I completely agree that in the closed environment of the airplane, with its recirculated air, peanuts could be deadly. How many times do you see someone eat peanuts and then proceed to dust their hands off rather than actually washing them? If my children even touched the residue then left on armrests, seat buckles, etc. they would probably have hives if not worse. And even if you administer an epinephrine shot, you still would only have a very short window of time (15 minutes?) to land that airplane and get the child to the ER for the next required dose to save his/her life. I am terrified just thinking about it. And I wish people understood that I am not a paranoid and selfish mother; I am just doing what I have to do to protect the LIVES of my precious children. I think it’s ignorance that makes people say preposterous things like “what’s next?” They need to be educated. Thanks for the voice you are on this!

  6. I read article today on our local newpaper webpage. I was interested to read the comments that followed, and found that they literally made my stomach turn. Some attitudes were insensitive, downright mean and uninformed.

    We teach tolerance on all different levels, why not for life threatening food allergies? I guarantee if someone saw a child turn blue, eyes rolling back in their head, stop breathing, have to be injected with a huge epi pen and seek emergency care afterwards, they would see it in a different light.

    It’s nice to know there are other moms out there that advocate for their child!

  7. I never thought much about food allergies until my 1 y/o son ended up being allergic to Wheat, soy, milk, nuts and eggs. I completely agree, they should be pan, even the slightest inhale could cause a reaction. It is scary to think about.
    Good for you for bringing this up.
    I totally support it and it should be found out how to do this.

  8. I think it would be a great idea for the airlines to decide not to serve them. We are living in different times now and it’s a serious health hazard for many people. The peanut industry may be hurt somewhat, however I think it’s for the greater good.

  9. Serving the most potentially allergic food in the most medically isolated place is just a recipe for disaster. I am amazed that airlines didn’t do away with peanuts when they did away with smoking on flights — they’re both huge public health hazards.

  10. I agree with the ban. I am flying with my 6 year daughter in 2 weeks and I am worried. We are flying Southwest and taking a 6:45am flight to ensure that the plane is clean from the night before and that no peanuts have been served on the plane yet (from that day at least). Even though the airline has been extremely helpful, and I feel like we are taking every precaution we can – I am still nervous. I wish the general public would understand how serious FA are and put themselves in the shoes of parents with FA children.

  11. I agree that peanuts should be banned from commercial flights. Our family won’t fly again until they do. My son has a life threatening allergy to peanuts (he’s also allergic to tree nuts and eggs). Last year, we requested (and received) a “peanut free flight,” where at least no peanuts were served during our flight. We brought two Epi-pens just in case and I was paranoid the entire flight. You never know where lost peanuts (or their dust / oils) might be hiding. Luckily, we landed without incident, but this summer we’re doing a road trip instead. It’s just less stressful.

    My allergist said that one Epi injection buys you about 20 minutes. You can usually do two injections, so that’s 40 minutes. It generally takes 45 minutes to land and get a person into an anaphylaxis equipped ambulance. Hope the US DOT can do the math. Salty pretzels, raisins, crackers, chips, etc. all make perfectly acceptable snacks.

    If the DOT fails to take action, maybe we can convince one airline, like Southwest, to ban peanuts. They’ll have three million new customers if they do 🙂

  12. I also was not aware of the severity of food allergies until my 5 month old son was diagnosed with severe dairy and peanut / tree nut allergies. I think that a ban on peanuts on airlines would cause more people to become aware of the severity of this problem, and perhaps cause researchers and more industries to search for a cure.

  13. Peanut allergies are more and more common. This issue isn’t going away … it is getting worse. True there are many allergies and many foods that could cause reactions, but the peanut reactions seem much more severe. Plus the peanuts can get caught in between seats, on a floor, etc. etc. It is just that type of food.

    The airlines aren’t banning peanuts on their own and I don’t think they are ever going to (12 years later and we are still fighting for it) … USDOT has a responsibility to ban them. It poses a life threatening health risk to the FA sufferer. It is scary to have a reaction in an enclosed area and it isn’t the same as going to a baseball game or a restaurant. As far as the peanut industry … I’m sure that they will be just fine. They may just have to get creative.

    People are uninformed when it comes to food allergies. I hope that USDOT sends a clear message that this is a severe medical issue. This isn’t just a bunch of people who are paranoid for no reason.

  14. I often wonder about this when I’m handed a bag of peanuts on a plane. I think it’s ridiculous that it is even such a big controversy. People could die because of peanuts on a plane. They should be banned. period.

  15. I agree! This is one of the reasons why I don’t feel comfortable flying. When you have a reaction on a plane, what would you do? Peanut/Tree Nut allergies can be very severe and can only take touching or inhaling the allergen.

  16. I agree with banning peanuts on commerical flights. The idea of a severe reaction 30,000 in the air is SCARRY!!! People need to remember that the air inside an airplane is recirculated and that means that the peanut particals are being recirculated also. They also need to remember that a person should not be treated differently just because they have a food allergy, for example a person with a severe peanut allergy cannot fly(or only fly on a few flights that may not fit their schedule)because of the peanut particales “flying” around inside the airplane. Does not seem fair to that person. So with the ban of peanuts on airplanes is the person without the peanut allergy going to suffer or possibly die if there are no peanuts on their flight?? NO!! I am a mother of 3 beautiful children and each are different. My 5 year old is allergic to diary, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts(not airborne), my 2 year old is allergic to dairy and eggs and my 14 month old has no food allergies. My 2 year old loves PBandJ and he as a 2 1/2 year old little boy has been taught and knows that he needs to be respectful for his sister and others that are allergic to things that he is not allergic to. Now if a 2 1/2 year old can be taught that, why can’t an adult be taught the same thing?????

  17. I would love to see peanuts / treenuts banned on flights. Within the past year I’ve contacted every major airline and none has a completely satisfactory policy in my opinion. We’ve flown Jet Blue for the past four years with my peanut/nut allergic daughter and they agreed not to serve nut snacks at the time of reservation, but then we were met with resistance from the actual flight crew on at least three occasions. As far as I know, Jet Blue doesn’t serve any peanuts. They do serve treenuts so ever if they agree not to serve on your flight, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t residue so it’s still a stressful environment. The Jet Blue staff has also agreed on each of our flights to make an announcement saying there is a severe nut allergic person on board and to please not eat those snacks if anyone brought them from home. There is always someone who complains but I’d say about 90% of people are very nice about it. I do hope they change their policies in the near future. Banning these products does not open the door to other bans. My other daughter is allergic to eggs, and I would not ask for an egg ban. Only nuts have a dust that has been proven to move through the air and cause reaction.

  18. I think they should be banned – I wish tree nuts were being included in this ban, too, which is what my daughter is allergic to – we haven’t flown since her diagnosis and she is a teen and talks about travel and – I just don’t know what to tell her, frankly.

  19. I 100% agree that peanuts should be banned. My son isn’t even allergic to peanuts (just dairy and eggs as far as we know) but I understand the differnce in reactions that people have to nuts v. dairy/eggs.
    the thought of a child having an allergic reaction during a flight is horrible. To think what could happen in the time it would take to land a plane and get emergency crews to help a child is unbearable. If this happened at a baseball park – at least you are on the ground and an ambulance could get there in a matter of minutes or some cases, seconds.
    people that don’t have to deal with food allergies just don’t get it. My own family still doesn’t get it. my son ends up with hives EVERY time we visit my father because he insists on kissing him after eating things with dairy.
    It is SOOO frustrating.

  20. I am blown away by all these amazing, very insightful comments. I think we all agree that banning peanuts from airplanes is the smartest, safest choice. And yes, we banned cigarettes from flights, why can’t banning peanuts follow suit?

  21. I am so glad that more people are talking about food allergies now. I know that before I had my oldest son, (who is severly allergic to tree nuts among other things) I was completely clueless about food allergies. I always thought that people were just being rediculous. After watching my child almost die from eating certain foods, my attitude has completely changed. I believe that if more people were educated about FA their attitude would cange as well.

  22. I’d love to see a complete nut ban (treenut and peanut), my daughter has both allergies and a very severe pistachio and cashew. Like a previous poster said, I’d like to see the airlines do this themselves. I think if the airlines set this policy it would be much better precieved. More people would realize they are making a business decision and responding to passenger needs. However, if there is a legisltative ban through congress, people (the non allergic ones) will have a different reaction. The message will be lost and people will say government is taking away my rights. Similar to when Bloomberg proposed the ban on transfats and some didn’t want gov’t telling them what to eat. I personally think it was a great idea.

    This is why we have not flown anywhere with my daughter, too risky.
    I’d also love to see them ban pets from planes. I am allergic to cats (although I do like them), they make me sick and cause asthmatic problems.

    Allergic Living Magazine has had articles about allergens and airplanes


  23. I think they should be banned, though I don’t think the ban should be limited just to peanuts. I think it should be tree nuts as well. We don’t fly simply because of this issue. It’s not worth risking our daughters life. I think the peanuts and tree-nuts should be banned, but of course that opens it up to what about the other Top 9 Allergens too? Sesame seeds… It’s a hard one. But it shouldn’t be *just up* to the parents or the person who is food allergic to protect themselves. Other people should step in to help too. A peanut ban would at least be a start. It’s not like people are going to starve if they can’t eat it peanuts or tree-nuts for a few hours in flight 🙂

  24. You know, it’s amazing how ignorant people can be. Before my son was diagnosed with his allergies (wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts, and tomatoes), my brother and I got into an argument about removing peanuts from schools. I was a special ed teacher, working with the most fragile kids, and to me it was a no-brainer that the safety of all kids was more important than the ability to pick any and all snack choices for others.
    But, alas, my brother feels like it’s an infringement on his rights to not give his child a pb&j sandwich, and he actually feels like those kids with allergies should have to go to special schools or be homeschooled so as not to infringe on his rights. I’d be interested in having that argument with him again, now that my own son, his nephew, has been diagnosed…but you know what? It’s not even worth the argument. Some people will never understand, and are so selfish anyway, that even if they did get it, they still wouldn’t care. 🙁
    Hopefully lawmakers will actually consider the FACTS and evidence, and realize that safety should come before comfort, and safety should come before freedom to choose…we’re not talking about removing all food from airplanes…just one. there are still thousands of other food choices!

  25. Please don’t bash me; I’m still learning. My 11 year old son was JUST diagnosed with allergies to nuts, pork, fish, wheat, and milk. Even if you legislate that airlines stop serving nuts, or only allow a drink service; I still don’t see how you will make an airplane a “nut-free” zone. If you have a long flight and require people bring their own food on board, are you then going to search everyone’s food bags to be CERTAIN it is nut-free? Some allergies are more sensitive than others. And from a critical thinking perspective, what makes one person’s right to utilize air travel more important than another person’s right to select thier own diet? You can always drive to your destination. Inconvenient yes, but air travel is not a RIGHT it’s a luxury.

  26. I must agree with the person who pointed out that a simple ban on serving peanuts is simply not going to work. While the airline may not serve peanuts, what’s to stop one passenger from bringing a Mr. Goodbar or a Payday aboard and eating it midflight? Or that bag of trail mix or even the child two rows up with a pb&j sandwich mom brought from home?
    If your child is so allergic to a substance that he cannot be in an enclosed space where that substance might lurk, it is YOUR responsibility to keep him in a safe environment. If that means making alternate travel arrangements or even foregoing travel, so be it.
    Incidently, I happen to have a severe allergy and have carried an Epi-Pen. Now I carry an epinephrine kit with two injections and tablets. I do know how difficult the situation can be.

    • Nancy, sorry I have to disagree with you on this. I’m not going to constantly avoid air travel, and have my son do the same for the rest of his life because people can’t live without their peanuts on a flight. Enough already!

  27. I have to say that peanuts or any food should not be banned in any way. These allergy sufferers need to manage their problem. If you can’t manage it, then don’t fly! It certainly won’t stop me from cracking open a bag of nuts on a plane whether they serve it or not.

  28. I feel sorry for the children w/ the allergies, but I do not feel the airlines or the government has a right to tell me what I can and can not eat. There are people w/ severe allergies to many things, and we can not ban them all. If your child has a severe peanut allergy, then they should not fly. It could be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. DRIVE.

    • susansmith, i’m sorry you feel so strongly to tell every single person in the world who has an allergy to DRIVE. every time i read comments like this, i wonder how as a society we got to this place of unwillingness to show compassion for others. i think i explained my position as well as i could in my post. not everything is always black and white. onward.

  29. Is there any update on this? I just tried to fly with my children and the airlines were very difficult to deal with. I agree that nuts/peanuts should be banned.

  30. i have severe food allergies and i have since i was 3 even being in the same room can cause a severe reaction. I have never really traveled becaause of this and it stinks!!!! i want to go to Australia. Do you want me to drive to Australia. NO!!!!!! People are so inconciderate. I might die if i go on a plane with peanuts/treanuts. will you die to live with out them. NO!!!! iis not fair :-/