Allergy Update: Peanuts and Pets on Planes, Plus How Good are Airline Air Filters?

Previously posted 6-14-10:

It’s War!

Two years ago, Rick Seaney inadvertently started a war…over peanuts on planes.

It didn’t take much – just a post on the fact that Northwest (now part of Delta Air Lines) decided to bring back peanuts as a snack on their planes.

“Get your peanut-hating a**es out of the airport”

Check out some of the comments Rick got:

  • Peanut Flier: “Get your peanut-hating a**es out of the airport!”
  • Chuck: “Holy Crap. If they bother you, DON’T EAT THEM.”
  • Virginia: “That’s a terrific idea Chuck, I should probably tell my husband he should have thought of that snappy comeback but I can’t because he passed away in 1999 from severe anaphylaxis, brought on by peanuts.”

More comments may be on the way, because the Department of Transportation (DOT) is considering a peanut ban for airlines. Actually, officials are looking at the following three possible options:

Three “Peanut Ban” Options

1. Total ban: Banning the serving of peanuts and all peanut products by both U.S. and foreign carriers on flights covered by DOT’s disability rule

2. Ban by request: Banning the serving of peanuts and all peanut products on all such flights where a passenger with a peanut allergy has requested a peanut-free flight in advance

3. Buffer zones: Requiring a peanut-free buffer zone in the immediate area of a passenger with a medically-documented severe allergy to peanuts if passenger has requested a peanut-free flight in advance.

Shellfish Allergies More Common than Peanut Allergies

By the way, did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while food allergy deaths are rare, they do kill as many as 150 people a year? Something else to ponder: an estimated 3.3 million Americans suffer from nut allegories – but 7.7 million are allergic to shellfish. At the moment however, there are no calls for bans on “shrimp cocktail” in first class.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to comment on the proposed airline peanut ban, the DOT would love to hear from you.

What about People with Pet Allergies?

Which brings us to the other great debate: pets on planes. We know there are good reasons why pets should not fly – but what about the humans that have to sit next to those that do fly?

A couple of years back, Frontier Airlines decided to quit transporting pets, because they wanted to be “respectful” of passengers who had allergies to pets or just didn’t want to be around them. Then a few weeks ago, Frontier flip-flopped; they now say pets are welcome aboard again.

Pet Fees Aren’t Cheap

What changed? They say they’re giving customers what they want, and that it has nothing to do with money (of course not!). By the way, roundtrip in-cabin pet transport fees on Frontier run $150, and the cargo pet transport fee is $300.

Southwest Says “Yes” to Fluffy and Sparky

If you’re allergic to dogs or cats or guinea pigs or whatever, the trend is against you: a year ago, Southwest announced it too would start transporting animals (in-cabin, only).

Solution: make an airline’s “pet policy” one more thing you check out before you fly – along with the price of the flight, and those irritating airline bag fees.

Meanwhile, How Good is Airplane Air in General?

Actually, the consensus seems to be that the air on planes is actually pretty good.

Some reassuring words from the CDC about the air on your aircraft:

“All commercial jet aircraft built after the late 1980s and a few modified older aircraft recirculate 10%-50% of the air in the cabin mixed with outside air. The recirculated air passes through a series of filters 20-30 times per hour. In most newer model airplanes, the recycled air passes through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which capture 99.9% of particles (bacteria, fungi, and larger viruses) between 0.1 and 0.3 microns. Air flow occurs horizontally across the plane in limited bands, and air is not forced up and down the length of the plane.” - from the CDC

Like Mom Always Said, Wash Your Hands

Not bad, but not perfect either – if you are sitting near someone who is contagious, you could well become ill yourself. The CDC offers two pieces of advice for fliers: If you are sick, do not fly; and wash your hands – a lot.

As for peanut allergy sufferers, you will have to wait and see if the DOT does order a ban peanuts; but even if it does, it may not go into effect until next year.

If Peanuts are Banned, Can Passengers Still Eat Them?

Something else to remember: no airline ban will be really meaningful for those with peanut allergies unless there’s also a ban on passengers bringing their own peanut snacks onboard a plane – and so far, no one’s talked about that. Yet.

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Published: June 14, 2010