Editor’s note: This is part twelve in a series about the Transportation Department’s sweeping new airline passenger protection rules. You can read the entire document here (.DOC). Please take a moment to comment on these proposed rules at Regulationroom.org. The future of air travel depends on it.
Ban peanuts? Really?
That’s the first reaction I get when I mention the final, and perhaps the most ridiculed, of the Transportation Department’s proposed new rules. Seriously — why would the government do away with peanuts on a plane?
The regulatory analysis (PDF) I’ve referred to throughout this series of posts doesn’t even address this contentious issue.
But the facts are these: Every time I write about peanut allergies, or any kind of allergies in connection with air travel, I get a flood of emails from allergy sufferers who implore the airlines to create allergen-free flights. (No pets, no peanuts, no shellfish at a minimum.)
I don’t suffer from allergies, and neither does any member of my family. So while it’s easy for me to dismiss these requests as frivolous, it’s true that I’ll never know what it’s like to live with a life-threatening allergy.
The government feels it’s time to take these requests seriously. Under 14 CFR Part 382, airlines are prohibited from discrimination against passengers with disabilities. And an allergy can be a disability.
If a person’s allergy is sufficiently severe to substantially limit a major life activity, then that person meets the definition of an individual with a disability. Part 382 states that major life activities means functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. Airline passengers with severe allergies to peanuts have a qualifying disability as defined in Part 382.
The government is considering several rules to remedy the problem.
1) Banning the serving of peanuts and all peanut products by both U.S. and foreign carriers on flights covered by DOT’s disability rule.
2) Banning the serving of peanuts and all peanut products on all such flights where a passenger with a peanut allergy is on board and has requested a peanut-free flight in advance.
3) Requiring a peanut-free buffer zone in the immediate area of a passenger with a medically-documented severe allergy to peanuts if passenger has requested a peanut-free flight in advance.
Interestingly, the government has tried going the peanut-free-zone route in the past, but was stopped by Congress.
[The] Department was directed by Congress to cease issuing guidance on this subject or face a cutoff of funding for its Aviation Enforcement Office. See, for example, section 346 of Public Law 106-69, (October 9, 1999)–“DOT and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2000,” which stated that none of the funds made available under that Act could be used to require or suggest that airlines provide peanut-free buffer zones or otherwise restrict the distribution of peanuts.
The prohibition hasn’t appeared in any recent legislation, so the DOT thinks it has a green light to renew its peanut prohibitions.
But how far do you take the ban? Would passengers be prohibited from taking their own nuts on board? How about crackers with peanut butter or something deep-fried in peanut oil? How would you enforce such a ban?