Late last week Air Canada released a story about it's new policy with regard to nut allergies. Read the full story here.
Air Canada, which does not serve peanuts but does serve tree nuts, will now offer a buffer zone of 3 rows for passengers with severe peanut and/or tree nut allergies. This is because they do not ask passengers not to bring these food items on board, so nut-allergic passengers will still be at risk. The buffer is intended to keep severely allergic people from having reactions in flight.
If you were to read the message board comments that follow the above story (and I don't suggest that you do, they're the same old "peanut allergies are fake" "it's Darwin's natural selection at work" and my favorite: "it's a grand tradition to serve peanuts on airplanes.")
I'm not sure why there is a furor now taking place in Canada over this policy, since many airlines already either don't serve peanuts in flight or they also employ the buffer zone policy. What's the big deal? It also used to be a grand tradition to smoke on airplanes, but that "tradition" is gone and what of it? Maybe our lungs are a little cleaner than they would have been.
The other big argument about peanut/nut policies on airplanes is that, because airplanes are a public conveyance, those with allergies have no right to be accommodated. However, I would argue that because an airplane is a public conveyance, everyone that can be accommodated should be. It's not going to harm a non-allergic person's health if they don't eat peanuts or tree nuts for a short period of time--it will harm an allergic person to have too much exposure to these foods. Of course no airline can guarantee that you won't have an allergic reaction or that some passengers will insist on bringing nutty foods on the plane. But the airlines set the tone--if they make a policy and stick to it (like no smoking) then people will just get used to it and accept it.
Airlines already accommodate requests for many common and potentially serious allergies that can cause respiratory distress, not just nut allergies. People allergic to pets should know that many airlines won't allow more than 4 pets in the cabin and will reassign seats for allergic flyers. Also, some airlines state that people with sensitivities to perfumes may change seats. Check this airplane policy guideline from Allergic Living magazine for a list of airlines and their policies.
Peanut and tree nut airline policies and the public's negative reaction to them can be upsetting for parents and caregivers of nut-allergic kids and for the many allergic adults who fly for business or pleasure. However, just like no smoking policies and ramps/parking spaces for physically disabled people have become accepted public policy norms, this big airplane brouhaha will someday blow over. The idea that people with nut allergies can solve the problem and "choose not to fly" as many who don't have allergies themselves have suggested, is discriminatory and unrealistic. For example: Can you imagine, in this day and age, saying to a person--"Sorry, because you're in the minority, we can't make this public building accessible to you. You may choose to avoid public buildings. That's your choice." No--of course not. But back in the 1970s, people protested making buildings (and parking spaces) convenient to physically disabled people. Why? Because they were a "special interest group." Sound familiar?
As passengers requiring nut allergy accommodations, we should feel free to ask for alternative snacks to be served or buffer zones to be offered. Tolerance doesn't happen overnight, but policy changes made for the health of passengers need not further divide us. It's just peanuts, after all. Have a nice flight.