Peanut Allergies and Airlines

For many with peanut allergy, the possibility of going into anaphylactic shock while flying in a pressurized jet at 39,000 feet is terrifyingly real. Although the odds are very small and can be mitigated even further by taking certain precautions, persons with peanut allergy face two primary risks while flying:

• Allergic reactions to peanuts in airline meals;

• Allergic reactions from the distribution and opening of peanut snacks, either through inhalation or by skin contact

According to a report prepared by the Airliner Cabin Environment Report Response Team to the Administrator on the National Research Council Report, The Airliner Cabin Environment and the Health of Passengers and Crew, issued in 2002 found one report of an allergic reaction to peanuts and four total food reactions.


Meals



There is a risk of Ingesting peanut allergen through an airline meal—but only if you eat it.



It is possible to request from an airline a peanut-free meal, but let’s face it: in doing so, you’re putting a lot of faith in the ability of the airline to communicate your request to your flight crew, any member of which can change moments before the flight, and this line of communication features a number of opportunities for that request to slip through the cracks.



Unless you’re flying in First Class where on most airlines the food is tolerably good and the service, immeasurably better, the very best way to avoid an allergic reaction through consuming peanuts on a plane is to either A) not eat at all on the plane, or B) bring your own food. For people with peanut allergy this is a fact of life.

In fact, taking responsibility in this manner is always the best decision, whether on an airline or not.


Peanut Snacks



Although there are no case studies we’re aware of, we have heard anecdotal stories of people experiencing some allergic symptoms while flying, probably from the small bags of peanut snacks that used to be issued with some frequency on a number of different airlines.

Opening the bags could certainly release some level of peanut proteins and, inside the pressurized cabin with presumably recycled air that is not cleaned with a HEPA filter, symptoms seem more than probable for people with extreme sensitivity. These symptoms are limited, however, and no reports of anaphylaxis are known to us.

HEPA filters are very effective in reducing this risk, and they are today a part of all modern jet liners, but figuring out which plane or planes has them may be next to impossible. Your best bet is to rely upon your patient history: have you ever had a reaction from inhalation before? If so, you can ask if the airline operates a peanut-free flight—some have removed these snacks from their


Skin Contact



For people with highly sensitive peanut allergy, even a trace amount coming into contact with the skin can trigger an allergic reaction. If other passengers are eating peanuts and then touching surfaces such as seats, bathroom door handles, bathroom fixtures, tray tables, arm rests, or any other similar area, a person with peanut allergy runs the risk of exposure.

The best method of handling this is to bring along a package of wet wipes that can be used to wipe down these surfaces prior to touching them.


Tips


• Call the airline before you book to find out about their peanut policy;

• Take responsibility for your own safety. Ensure that you communicate your needs well in advance to all relevant parties: travel agency or web site, airline staff, friends or family with whom you’re traveling.


• Bring your own food;
• Verify any information concerning arrangements etc when checking in (this means checking in at the airport, and not on-line);

• If you carry an epinephrine injection, make sure to pack it on you, and not in your check-in luggage;

• Bring a package of wet wipes with you to wipe down your seat, the tray table, arm rests, and anything else you might touch that others might have touched, including areas away from your seat, like the bathroom;


US Domestic Airline Policies



Airlines who have pulled peanuts: US Airways, American, United, Northwest, JetBlue, Spirit, ATA
Airlines who have not: Alaska Airlines, Continental, Delta, Southwest.



According the Arizona Republic, Continental offers a “peanut-free zone” and Southwest will not serve peanuts if alerted by a passenger beforehand.

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