A Canadian Transportation Agency study says air travellers with severe allergies to peanuts, nuts or sesame seeds face little risk from other people on a plane who may be eating snacks containing those products.
The probe, which was launched following a directive by former transport minister Lisa Raitt, consulted experts on the risk of allergic reactions due to inhalation or skin contact on aircraft with 30 or more seats on domestic and international flights.
Its findings, recently posted to the agency’s website, concluded there was “little to no evidence of a risk of allergic reactions” from touching or breathing in nut particles.
“Only accidental ingestion posed a risk of a serious allergic reaction,” a summary of the findings states.
The report recommends airlines continue following mitigation measures, such as buffer zones for allergic passengers and announcements to nearby seatmates, similar to ones that were part of a directive the agency issued to Air Canada in 2011 following complaints from two customers.
But the study’s recommendations would actually shrink the buffer zone in economy class from a row on either side of the passenger to just the row where the allergic passenger is seated.
Rhonda Nugent, whose daughter has a severe peanut allergy and was one of the original complainants, wants airlines to make a general announcement to the whole plane that an allergic passenger is on board. She also wants passengers to refrain from eating foods containing nuts during the flight.
Nugent says her now 16-year-old daughter always avoided the bathroom when they flew because they didn’t want to risk skin contact with nuts.
“If somebody eats peanuts, and we all know how unclean people are, and they go to the bathroom and they touch every seat on the way down, and then she goes behind them and then she comes back and puts her hand in her mouth, she could easily have an anaphylactic shock,” said Nugent, speaking from Conception Bay South, N.L.
The report only recommends seatmates within a buffer zone should be asked to refrain from eating peanuts, nuts or sesame seeds.
Other recommendations suggest passengers with concerns about allergic reactions be allowed to wipe down their seats themselves, and that flight crews be trained to recognize an allergic reaction.
Air Canada says on its website that it will not make a general announcement to all passengers about buffer zones for allergic travellers. Only passengers within the zone will be informed, the airline’s policy states.
“We believe this is the most effective way to provide a safe environment for our customers with allergies and still reasonably balance the diverse needs of our 41 million global customers we transport each year,” Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said in an email.
Westjet says on its website that it makes a cabin-wide announcement requesting passengers not open or consume any products containing nuts or nut products during the flight if they have an allergic passenger on board.
The transportation agency says the report will be used for advice on future cases and new policies. The agency will also review its previous directives on accommodating passengers with severe nut allergies.
Nugent says it’s terrifying to know your child’s life could be at risk in the air and she can’t understand why the transportation agency won’t require airlines to ask passengers to not eat nuts.
“I can assure you, if one of those people making that decision had a child with an allergy such as peanuts, which is deadly, they would not make that decision,” she said.