Peanuts Still Fly in the Face of Airplane Snack Wars

Wow! I'm still reeling. But that's what happens when you get caught in the crossfire.

You see, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote what I thought was an innocuous post on my blog about Northwest Airlines' switching its free snacks – from pretzels to peanuts. I also pointed out that some people weren't real happy about that.

And the war was on!

I expected a few snide remarks about airlines possibly charging for snacks soon (even though US Airways recently backtracked on charging for water and sodas). Instead, the war of comments was related to the passengers and airlines responsibility for allergy sufferers.

On one side were those who were extremely concerned about children's peanut allergies, and those who, uh, weren't so concerned (sample comment: "Get your peanut-hating a**es out of the airport").

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What's an Airline to Do?

We'll get to that, but first, let me just say that I know peanut allergies are no joke -- they can be life-threatening for some kids (and you can read all about it on established medical Web sites, like the Mayo Clinic's).

This really hit home with me when I visited my daughter's school at lunchtime and was amazed to see a "peanut table," a special place set aside just for kids with nut allergies.

Now, just so you don't think all the comments on my peanut blog post were angry ones, there were thoughtful questions like this one: "Why all of a sudden are peanuts the 'death snack'?" Well, it's not all of a sudden. A reporter I know was investigating peanut allergies -- and children who died of such allergies -- a decade ago.

And the numbers of those affected have been steadily increasing. No one's sure why, but suggestions include better allergy reporting, changes in peanut processing methods or the fact that some children aren't exposed to as many allergy-producing substances as they used to be, and therefore don't develop certain immunities.

Frightening? Sure, severe food allergies can be very scary, especially if it's your child with the problem. But some perspective: According to a recent Time magazine article, 15 to 20 people die each year from a variety of food allergies, but more people die from beestings.

Know the 'Peanut Policy'

Some airlines, like JetBlue, don't serve peanuts and have no plans to; according to the carrier's Web site, however, "We cannot guarantee that our aircraft or snacks will be 100 percent free of peanuts." And this is because the manufacturers of nonpeanut snacks may use the same equipment to process peanut treats.

Southwest Airlines, which does serve peanuts, says it has "procedures in place to assist our customers with severe allergies … and will make every attempt not to serve packaged peanuts on the aircraft when our customers alert us to their allergy."

And what of Northwest, the airline that just switched to peanuts (to bring it in sync with merger partner, Delta)? The airline will create a three-row buffer zone for peanut-allergic customers.

Curious about your favorite airline's "peanut policy"? Check out the "customers with disabilities" section on their sites.

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