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Monday, April 7, 2008

Air Peanuts Now Boarding

I read an article today from CTV Winnipeg, in which a mother was contending that "her daughter's spring break was ruined because of an airline policy that can't guarantee safety for passengers with severe food allergies."

I have two issues with this contention.

First of all, like it or not, airlines cannot guarantee the safety of ANY passenger. Though the incidence of medical emergency from any and all causes has doubled in recent years from 19 to 35 per 1M passengers, the increase is primarily due to the "rising number of older passengers". There are multiple safety concerns facing airlines and they cannot be expected to provide a 100% safety guarantee, short of not allowing passengers with anaphylaxis to fly.

My second issue is with the sensationalism of the statement that West Jet ruined spring break. That type of rhetoric serves only to illicit a forceful, and opposite, response from the non-allergic public. Those dealing with food allergies are best-served to remain calm and stick with facts and logic when raising their concerns.

Notwithstanding the fact that airlines cannot guarantee safety, there are precautions that travelers and airlines can take.

What can airlines do to (easily) accommodate allergic passengers?
In multiple posts I have proposed that a very simple procedure that would significantly minimize risk, without unreasonably inconveniencing other passengers.

My simple proposal:
The airline crew should announce, as a courtesy, that there is a peanut allergic passenger on board and that it would be best for people to not eat peanuts, especially in the rows in close proximity to the passenger.

I have to believe that most reasonable people, upon hearing such an announcement, would forgo their peanuts to ensure the safety of an unsuspecting allergic child.

Air Canada recently followed this procedure for us and it worked perfectly. Other passengers were more than happy to help. It was a simple, practical announcement that made sure passengers were aware without alarming them. This is relatively easy for peanuts as airlines no longer serve them, and only those passengers who brought peanuts on board would be negatively affected. This could be somewhat more difficult for a cashew allergy since Air Canada sells those in-flight.

This relatively minor concession is worth the risk. In the above-noted post I told the story of another flight (when I was traveling without my daughter) and a passenger directly behind me opened a bag of peanuts at 7am. During that flight two peanuts rolled down under my seat ... that is a significant risk factor for my daughter and if we have to make an emergency landing everybody is inconvenienced.

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