Airlines are nutty for serving complementary peanuts

Rebekah Katz

On a flight to a recent college audition, the flight attendants handed out complimentary bags of peanuts. Because I am allergic to peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, and macadamia nuts myself, I was shocked to see that some airlines still serve peanuts for free.

Today, researchers estimate that about 15 million Americans have food allergies,  and more than 17 million Europeans have food allergies. Food allergies among children have increased by approximately 50 percent between 1997-2013, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.

In fact, peanuts are one of the eight most common food allergies. Approximately three million people in the United States are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, a number that studies show has tripled from 1997 to 2008, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.

Fortunately, some airlines have discontinued serving peanuts. United Airlines, for example, stated, “United is committed to the safety of its customers, including customers with peanut allergies. United does not serve pre-packaged peanuts on our flights.”

However, other airlines have yet to eliminate peanuts, unless explicitly requested by a customer well in advance of the flight.

The question remains: Why must airlines continue to serve a food that causes harm to so many?

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Peanuts should have been prohibited on airplanes decades ago, and now that the number of nut allergies is rapidly increasing, it makes even more sense for peanuts to be taken off airplanes.

An airplane is especially bad for the commercial selling and distribution of nuts, more so than a cafeteria, restaurant, or even a classroom.

Unlike in a classroom, where it is easy to escape from allergens, in an airplane, there is no way to leave in the case of an allergy-related emergency. Coupled with the small size and poor ventilation of planes today, a mid-flight peanut snack can be a recipe for disaster: If your neighbor has peanut breath, chances are you will breathe it in.

Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to an emergency department, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.  On an airplane, this could be a scary situation, since flights are often hours long, and there’s physically no way to get to a hospital. You’d be lucky if one of the passengers was a physician because there are no on-call doctors on flights.

I am aware of the satisfaction people get from eating peanuts and other tree nuts, so I do understand that it is unfair to ban nuts in most areas.

However, since there are so many alternatives to nuts––crackers, pretzels, and carrots, to name a few––this foodnuts should be banned on airplanes.

By distributing peanuts on flights, airlines put many peoples’ lives in danger. No one will die from not eating nuts for a few hours, but there is a pretty high chance someone with a nut allergy could die from being around nuts. Why take that risk?