Peanut Allergies on Planes: Airline Policies

Peanut allergies are making news again thanks to a study published in the London-based Clinical and Translational Allergy Journal (CTAJ) that details the difficulty of air travel for those who suffer such allergies.

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1% Suffer Nut Allergies

The study reports that about 1 percent of the population in the UK suffers from one kind of nut allergy or another, which is the same figure frequently cited in the U.S. Allergies can range from mild to severe and in rare cases have led to deaths. One U.S. study says the prevalence of peanut allergy among children actually tripled between the years 1997 and 2008 (some of these numbers were self-reported). As food allergies cannot be cured, the only real strategy to manage the problem is avoidance. This is not always possible on planes.

Airlines: “Inconsistent” Policies

The CTAJ report appears to blame the airlines in part because of their inconsistency in managing passenger notifications of allergies. In one incident, “air stewards approached the nut allergic individuals and asked their permission to hand out nut-based snacks” but in another case, travelers who made their allergies known were then served nuts.

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No Nut-Free Guarantees

If you have trouble with allergies let your airline know ahead of time and check their website for more information. However, there’s a catch: no airline can guarantee a nut-free environment – even carriers that do not serve nuts – because airlines can’t forbid other passengers from bringing them aboard.

Take a look at the following  list of major airlines and a thumbnail sketch of their policies on peanut allergies – click the airline’s name for further information.

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Airline Peanut Allergy Policies

  • Alaska: Some first class meals and meals for purchase may contain nuts.
  • American: Peanuts are not served but they do offer other nut products and there may be trace elements of unspecified peanut ingredients including oils in meals and snacks.
  • Delta: Peanuts are normally served but if notified, the airline won’t offer them on an allergy sufferer’s flight; also, if the gate agent is notified, the passenger’s seat will be pre-cleaned.
  • JetBlue: The airline “does not serve peanuts and has no immediate plans to serve peanuts” but cannot guarantee peanut-free planes.
  • Southwest: The airline will make “every attempt” not to serve packaged peanuts on an allergy sufferer’s flight; Southwest also suggests taking the first flight of the day since planes are given a “thorough cleaning” each night.
  • United: The airline does not serve pre-packaged peanuts, but some in-flight meals may contain nuts or trace amounts.
  • US Airways: The airline says it “cannot accommodate ‘peanut-free’ snack requests” and some meals may contain peanut-related ingredients.
  • Virgin America: The airline “cannot guarantee an environment free of any allergens, including peanuts, peanut dust, peanut oil, or peanut remnants.”


Published: October 11, 2012