The US Department of Transportation is considering banning the nuts from airplanes, or perhaps creating a peanut-free zone on planes, much like there used to be a no smoking area on planes. Is this a good idea or a bad idea?
How Prevalent are Peanut Allergies
Various sources estimate the percentage of the US population that is allergic to peanuts to range somewhere between 0.4% and 1.0%.
People who are allergic to peanuts experience varying degrees of reaction when encountering peanuts. Some people can eat peanuts and merely get a runny nose and watery eyes as a result. Other people suffer more severe reactions, which can be triggered from less and less amount of contact with peanuts.
A small fraction of people can experience severe and life-threatening reactions to peanuts, even by merely inhaling peanut dust from the air around them.
For want of a more accurate number, perhaps one person in 1000 is at risk of a life threatening reaction when they come into minimal contact with peanuts.
So the issue then becomes whether the government should enact a new restriction on airlines and 99.9% of their passengers out of sensitivity to the other 0.1% of passengers?
Why Single Out Only Peanuts
Asthma sufferers can experience severe and even life threatening asthma attacks as a result of encountering various external factors; sometimes including exposure to cologne or perfume. Somewhere between 6% and 10% of the US suffer from asthma, although (same as peanut sufferers) only a smaller percentage experience extreme reactions. It is estimated that 100 people die every year (in the US) die from peanut allergies, compared to 4000 people who die every year from asthma attacks.
There are many other irritations and inconveniences that all of us as passengers must accept on flights as well. The person on one side of us eating and offensively smelly strange type of food. The person on the other side of us who really should have bought two seats and is taking up much of our space. The person behind us who took their shoes off. The person in front of us who is sharing their flatulence noisily with everyone around them. The person opposite us, coughing their lungs out with influenza or tuberculosis or who knows what.
Who is Responsible for Allergy Sufferers
No-one denies that some people risk a severe reaction if they inadvertently come in contact with peanuts. But which is more appropriate — should we modify the behavior of 99.9% of the population, or should we ask the 0.1% of affected people to modify their behavior. A flight attendant posted a telling comment on a USA Today discussion blog on this point. She said
Ban peanuts? Oh please, I’ve yet to see a parent of a peanut allergy kid be prepared to travel with the general public. This parent will come on board and start demanding that peanuts NOT be served during the flight, and telling us we’ve got to make an announcement “blah blah blah”. Look, I understand your concern. But could you first start out with “Hello”? I will always ask, “Do you have a mask for your child to wear?” The answer has always been a surprised “NO”. Me- “Do you have epinephrine or other medication to treat?” Parent- “Well, no.” Me- “Do you have Handi-Wipes to wipe down surfaces before your child is seated?” Parent- “Ummm no”.
Listen, I’m willing to work with you on this. But be mindful of your approach, and come prepared. This is PUBLIC transportation.
What do you think? Feel free to add a comment.