Should Peanuts Be Served On Flights? : Northwest Reintroduces Peanuts

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17/02/2009 – Should Peanuts Be Served On Flights? : Northwest Reintroduces Peanuts

On February 1st Northwest Airlines announced that they would switch from handing out pretzels back to peanuts.  Delta Airlines‘ spokesman Anthony Black states this has to do with the merging of Northwest & Delta Airlines. Delta being an Atlanta based airline and peanuts are important to Georgia’s economy.

In the past year alone Delta Airlines handed out 60,000,000 bags of peanuts to its passengers.   However many airlines, including US Airways, Continental Airlines, Air Canada and American Airlines (and formerly Northwest Airlines) ceased serving peanuts in 1998, after the Department of Transportation suggested airlines create a ‘buffer’ for passengers who have the common allergy to peanuts.

With Northwest’s return to peanuts, their web site now has the following warning
Northwest recognizes that some customers are allergic to peanuts or tree nuts (almonds, cashews, etc.), and that exposure to peanuts or tree nuts can result in dire, even fatal, consequences for customers with the most severe allergies. Northwest Airlines cannot guarantee an environment free of any allergens, including peanuts, peanut dust, peanut oil, or peanut remnants.

This site also says, “Northwest does not serve peanuts or products made with or containing peanuts.”   I guess this needs to be updated immediately.

This warning appears on Northwest Airline’s “Asia” site, I cannot find it on their North American web site.

The problem with peanuts on an aircraft is simple; peanuts give off a distinctive smell that can send someone into an anaphylactic state.  The smell of peanuts, like seafood, is strong. The allergen in peanuts, like that of some seafood, can be airborne, and cause a reaction by inhaling, rather than only ingesting the food.

In fact between 2001 and 2006 54% of all food-allergy related deaths in the United States involved peanuts!   Given the absolutely staggering statistics of food-allergy related deaths that are linked to peanuts, it is hard to understand why an airline would continue to serve peanuts, or not offer a non-peanuts option to passengers, in a confined space.

I have flown over half-a-million miles on Delta since 2005 and had some peanut problems at times. I happen to have a severe allergy to both peanuts and seafood. The smell of warm peanuts on Delta’s long-haul flights, served in Business Elite, and shrimp and crab served in Korean Air’s business class, have caused me problems in the past.  I carry Benadryl, and an Epi Pen, but those only really help if you can escape the smells.

On the Korean Air flight I was actually given a paper mask to try and keep the smell out of my nose, which was an interesting idea by the airlines.

In my flying experience, I have twice witnessed people go into serious distress over peanuts on Delta flights, one from Atlanta to Los Angeles and another between New York and Atlanta.   Both times we were diverted, both times the affected passenger was met by Emergency Medical Services on the ground and transported from the aircraft by ambulance.   Is this common?  No, it is not a daily routine, but it does happen and it is hard to address serious respiratory problems when on-board a long metal tube flying at 30,000 feet.

I do not foresee airlines getting rid of peanuts, however I wish they’d switch to pretzels.    There are however inherent problems with peanuts that are fairly unique to peanuts. This does not mean airlines should cater to ‘everyone,’ what it means is airlines should do a better job of potentially researching ramifications and seeking out obvious ways to avoid potentially, and fairly common, ways of affecting passenger health.

Happy Flying!

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