The Department of Transportation (DOT) has considered several times a ban of peanuts on airplanes.  The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination by airlines against passengers with disabilities (a human rights issue), and DOT agrees that passengers with severe peanut allergies qualify as disabled because the condition limits a major life activity, in this case, flying.  Of food allergens, peanuts and tree nuts cause more than 90% of fatalities and have a high rate of symptoms from minimal contact, such as traces of peanut on flight attendants’ hands or on other surfaces.

DOT previously asked for guidance on this subject in 1998, but was directed by Congress to stop its activities or face a cutoff of funding for its Aviation Enforcement Office.  To ensure no further action could be taken, the DOT and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000 was enacted, and section 346 states that none of the funds made available under that Act may be used to require or even suggest that airlines provide peanut-free buffer zones or otherwise restrict the distribution of peanuts.  Despite this and to its credit, DOT solicited comments on the proposed ban, a step which the food allergic community truly appreciates.

The Georgia Peanut Commission opposes the ban, as do elected U.S. representatives from peanut producing States.  The Department of Transportation's efforts were effectively shut down in 1998, and unfortunately, this happened again.

The way around this is simple: Airline representatives have stated to the press that they will defer to the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) on the peanut ban issue, and the ATA indicated that they are formulating a position.  This petition is in support of the proposed ban of peanuts from airplanes and will be directed to Congress, the Department of Transportation, and the Air Transport Association.

Letter to
Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of the Secretary of Transportation
Airlines for America (A4A) David A. Berg, Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary (passengers with disabilities)
I support the proposed ban of peanuts from airlines and ask that the Air Transport Authority (ATA) position itself in favor of the proposed ban. Airline representatives have stated to the press that they’ll defer to the Air Transport Association on the matter, and the food allergic community worldwide is eagerly anticipating your support.

We appreciate that the ATA is the trade organization for 90% of all U.S. airline passenger traffic, and that in response to the proposed rules, the ATA President and CEO Mr. James C. May stated that “The ATA member airlines’ shared goal is to provide a safe, efficient, reliable and economically viable air transportation system consistent with the expectations of their customers, employees and shareholders. Today’s DOT notice of proposed rule making will be evaluated against that standard, with a focus on minimizing potential passenger inconvenience.” We also appreciate that in the ATA agenda, it states that safety is the airlines’ top priority.

The Department of Transportation says that passengers with severe peanut allergies qualify as disabled since the condition limits flying, a major life activity. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination by airlines against passengers with disabilities. As a result, DOT has repeatedly considered a ban on peanuts during flights. We agree that the issues allergic passengers and their families face in flight are an emerging safety issue and human rights/disability issue.

Food allergy as a disability is difficult for people without it to understand since the disability is hidden. It’s hard to comprehend that a completely healthy person can be dead within minutes from a severe allergic reaction. Of food allergens, peanuts and tree nuts cause more than 90% of fatalities and have a high rate of symptoms from minimal contact, such as traces of peanut on flight attendants’ hands or on other surfaces. This too is hard to comprehend: A few invisible molecules of nut protein can cause death.

In contrast, it’s easy to see why people in wheelchairs need special accommodation on flights. The website suggests that passengers in wheelchairs give advance notice to the airline that they’re traveling by wheelchair, request maximum assistance at all airport terminals, obtain permission to gate check the wheelchair (board the flight in it), and have an attendant move them to their seat in an aisle wheelchair. There likely was some grumbling when every airline had to become wheelchair accessible, but it’s now an accepted part of plane travel.

Passengers that are vegetarian have also been fully accommodated on flights, and they can expect a meal that meets their dietary preferences. Approximately 3% of Americans are vegetarians. Airlines voluntarily took on the cost involved in modifying menus and paying special care to passenger meals, despite the fact that a vegetarian’s life is not at risk if he or she eats something that contains meat.

It makes business sense to ban peanuts from airplanes. Peanut and nut allergies in children more than tripled between 1997 and 2008. People allergic to peanuts are told by their allergists to avoid tree nuts too, in an effort to avoid sensitization and to increase the odds of outgrowing the allergy. In 2008, the combined rate of these two allergies was 2.1 percent of US children under 18 and 1.3% of adults, a total of 4,587,905 individuals.

Airline ticket sales are lost not only to these allergic passengers, but to their travel companions. If the allergic passenger takes a trip with three family members, that brings the impact of nut allergy up to 18,351,620 potential lost sales representing almost 6% of the US population. This is the “ripple effect” of food allergy.

If it makes business sense to accommodate the 3% of passengers who are vegetarian, it should make business sense to accommodate the 6% affected by peanut or tree nut allergy.

The peanut industry cites that $20 million in sales may be lost, a tiny fraction of their revenue. This is a fallacy, since it’s not that travelers will stop eating peanuts, they will just stop being provided them on planes. If travel isn’t the same without eating peanuts along the way, then perhaps more peanuts will be sold at kiosks before and after flights.

Should an air traveler have a severe allergic reaction during a flight, an emergency landing would be needed. The estimated cost to divert an A330 international flight would be at least $250,000.00, a substantial cost to the airline and a substantial inconvenience to other travelers. On the topic of cost to the airlines of continuing to serve nuts, peanut allergy doesn’t just cause discomfort, it can cause death.

Now that these issues are on the table, the potential liability to airlines far exceeds the $20 million peanut farmers may lose. Failure to ban peanuts costs airlines lost ticket sales, the cost of diverted flights, and increased liability. It simply makes business sense to ban peanuts from airplanes.

When the DOT last solicited comments the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), which is now called Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), and other allergy support organizations submitted that the most practical solution is for carriers not to serve packaged peanut snacks on flights. While DOT is restricted by legislation which provides that it cannot put any final rules in place until 90 days after submission to the Congress of a peer-reviewed scientific study, the ATA does not fall under that restriction, and it is hoped that your agency will formulate a position that encourages DOT to proceed with this initiative, and encourage airlines that voluntarily wish to ban peanuts to do so.

Elizabeth Goldenberg started this petition with a single signature, and now has 15,666 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.