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Inside the Issue: Peanut Allergies

The Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced a series of proposed consumer rights initiatives designed to make flying a little less frustrating for you and me. But since these are only proposals, the public has 60 days to comment on the DOT’s ideas. I’ll be doing a series of in-depth breakdowns of these proposals, and I encourage all SmarterTravel readers to head over to and share their thoughts on the DOT’s plans. The DOT is trying to help you, so let’s make sure its solutions actually work for real, live travelers.

Be sure to see our previous in-depth looks at the DOT’s proposals for Bumping Compensation, Tarmac Delays, and Fare Transparency.

In-flight peanuts may not seem like an issue worth the DOT’s time and effort. But to those who suffer from intense peanut allergies, the thought of spending long hours in a confined space with the aroma of peanuts wafting through the cabin can be too much. So what, if anything, should the DOT do?

The Basics: The DOT is proposing a number of measures that would insulate allergic travelers from peanuts, including banning peanuts from flights or creating no-peanut zones aboard aircraft.

The Problem: Peanut allergies can be serious, especially in children, with reactions ranging from mild irritation to severe, possibly life-threatening asphyxiation. Some people are so sensitive that even small, trace amounts of peanuts can produce symptoms. This is why food packaging often alerts customers of potential contact between the product and peanuts.

As such, the DOT treats peanut allergies as a disability. Federal law prohibits airlines from discriminating against passengers with a disability. Of course, peanuts are practically synonymous with air travel, and most airlines offer peanuts as part of whatever snack service they still provide. This makes the whole situation rather complicated. Is it fair to continue serving peanuts when their mere presence in the cabin can cause harm to passengers? And why not cater to other allergies?

The Details: The DOT has a few ideas:

  • Banning peanuts and peanut products entirely
  • Banning peanuts and peanut products when a passenger with a peanut allergy requests a peanut-free flight in advance
  • Requiring the airline to provide a peanut-free zone around a passenger that makes a request in advance.

Pros and Cons: On a practical level, there’s really no downside to banning peanuts and peanut products entirely. In fact, I’d wager that most people wouldn’t notice if airlines quietly replaced peanuts with pretzels or some other product. Do people like peanuts? Of course. I like peanuts. But no one is seriously going to miss those little foil packages or the dozen or so over-salted peanuts inside. Well, OK, the packages evoke a certain nostalgia.

But I digress.

The real argument against some sort of peanut ban is that it almost requires the DOT to address other allergic conditions, notably pet allergies. If the DOT is going to accommodate one allergy, why not another? It would seem, then, that a moderate response, such as a peanut-free zone, is the most realistic, because it’s the most transferrable to other allergies that would inevitably be addressed if any peanut rules are made permanent.

Your Turn: I’d love to hear what you think about this problem and the DOT’s solutions for it, so leave a comment below and share your thoughts. More importantly, though, tell the DOT what you think at Thanks!

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