It’s nuts, isn’t it, that something so delicious as nuts can actually be life-threatening to some people, and even kill. Even madder is the fact that this seems to be an issue few in the airline industry dare broach.
So what is the right thing to do about the consumption of nuts during flights? The truth is, most of us know but who among us is brave enough to act? Here I want to lay out some facts and fiction to help those responsible for the decision-making to fully understand.
Peanut allergies among children in Western countries have doubled in the past decade. Peanut allergies are emerging in Africa and Asia too. Research shows that 1.76% of people in the UK have tree-nut allergies; while in the USA, more than 3.9 million people have tree-nut allergies and 6.1 million people have peanut allergies.
In 2015 research showed that nearly 100,000 new nut allergy cases were being diagnosed annually in the USA and UK. Additionally, 1 in 50 primary school-aged children were affected in the USA, Canada, UK and Australia. Alarmingly, in the last two years alone these and other food allergies have risen 300% worldwide in children. This is unprecedented.
Aircraft are essentially flying tubes travelling at high speed with recirculating air and that means danger for those with severe nut allergies.
Exact risks and distance dangers within the cabin vary by individuals but there are multiple reports of passengers sitting as far away as 10 rows from nut eaters and having allergic reactions. Diverting an aircraft because of a severe allergic reaction is expensive and inconveniences the other passengers. It makes sense to avoid this on many levels beyond ‘just’ the passengers health.
There are numerous spurious arguments offered against removing nuts from aircraft. They include claims that it’s difficult to stop passengers from bringing their own nuts onboard; that it’s wrong to tell a passenger that they can’t have something they want; that nuts are part of some peoples’ culture; that those with severe allergies should not fly or should wear masks; and even that for those who love eating nuts, eating them is a right.
Such voices remain loud. That doesn’t mean they should dominate the argument. A generation or so ago, smoking on flights was commonplace. For the good of all passengers, bans were introduced and now anyone flouting the rules can face a fine and possible arrest. Why can’t we have similar regulations for consuming nuts?
There are some simple fixes for ending this danger. It would be easy at the point of booking tickets to inform passengers that an airline is nut-free and explain why: it’s down to the increase in nut allergies, which can be airborne. If one life is saved by banning nuts in-flight, you made a difference. Surely a compelling argument.
Automated announcements before and after boarding would act as a simple reminders. Nuts are no longer allowed in most UK schools. If children manage, I’m sure passengers can.
Nuts are a delicious snack. I personally like them, although my own businesses are completely nut and peanut free. And I am sorry for nut farmers and manufacturers, but this really is a matter of life or death and there are so many tasty nut-free alternatives to choose from for onboard service.
In the privacy of my own home and in restaurants that serve them I will eat nuts but I don’t have a problem with not eating them for the duration of a flight. They are a preference, not an addiction.
One of my friends has a severe nut allergy. When they visit, I go out of my way to make sure my home is spotless and all nuts are safely packed away. Surely airlines should offer that kind of genuine, caring hospitality.
For those who argue it’s ‘not my problem’ if someone has a food allergy, I ask where is your empathy and compassion? What if someone you love had a life-threatening food allergy? The world is changing and we simply no longer need to serve nuts. Chefs are innovative and creative and can come up with delicious alternative recipes that don’t contain nuts.
Many people with allergies refuse to fly. They fear the attitudes they will encounter aboard aircraft and the life-threatening potential impact of being exposed to allergens.
As a special meals manufacturer and dietetic meals specialist, I am regularly trying to overcome the lack of understanding and empathy around the potentially deadly impact of allergens. If you won’t listen to me, please have a chat with the various anaphylaxis associations around the world. Take a look at the World Allergy Organization’s recommendations telling every government and every airline in the world to stop serving nuts.
Not taking action when you finally recognise and engage with the facts is… simply nuts.