Until this summer, peanuts had been a huge part of Southwest Airlines’ identity, almost as much as its free checked bags, incessant in-flight dad jokes, and a commitment to being slightly less shitty than other domestic airlines. In July, though, the airline made what it called the “difficult decision” to stop serving mini-bags of peanuts, in order to be more accommodating to passengers with nut-related allergies.
Southwest, Delta and Alaska Airlines, among others, allow nut-allergic passengers to board their planes early, in order to wipe down their tray tables and seating areas before those flights depart. And now American Airlines has now joined them, encouraging passengers with nut allergies to take the time to wipe down their nasty-ass tray tables too.
According to Bloomberg, the boarding changes will go into effect on December 12, when the airline’s new flight-service manuals are updated. (As of this writing, American’s website still says that the carrier cannot “accommodate requests to not serve certain foods, provide nut ‘buffer zones,’ or allow you to board early to clean your area.”)
“Starting Dec. 12, customers with nut allergies who would like to board flights early to wipe down surfaces may ask to do so at the gate,” American Airlines spokesperson Michelle Mohr told MUNCHIES. “Though we do not serve peanuts in flight, we can’t guarantee our customers won’t be exposed to peanuts or other tree nuts during their trip. There are no changes to what we serve onboard our aircraft—we do serve warm mixed nuts in our First and Business Class cabins—and our customers may choose to bring items that contain nuts onboard with them.” (Mohr knows the challenges that passengers with nut allergies can face: she mentioned that she has her own nut allergy to contend with).
American didn’t decide to make this change out of the goodness of their collective hearts; in 2017, food allergy awareness organization FARE filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, alleging that American was violating the Air Carrier Access Act, which requires airlines to allow passengers with disabilities to pre-board. And, although American has agreed to accommodate the peanut-sensitive, FARE thinks it needs to do more than that.
“In our complaint, we noted the importance of allowing pre-boarding for passengers with food allergies and did not single out peanut and tree nut allergies,” FARE CEO Lisa Gable told Allergic Living. “It is our hope that the policy will in future include passengers with all diagnosed food allergies.”
Earlier this week, Australian traveler Em Lee posted a photograph of facial swelling that she says was the result of coming in contact with nut residue on a plane. Lee did not specify which carrier she was traveling on, but suggested that it was an airline that still serves nut products as part of its in-flight service.
“But hey, at least people aren't being withheld from their rights to be served nuts on planes,” she wrote on Facebook. “A super important snack they couldn't possibly go without, which could prevent potentially life threatening allergic reactions. Thanks society for pushing for your rights to be served nuts on aeroplanes, and thank you to the airlines who insist that they will never reconsider this snack option due to high demand.”
Despite the temptation for someone in boarding group 7 to claim a spontaneous peanut sensitivity, American doesn’t see that happening. “Some have asked us if we expect to see people faking a nut allergy in order to board the flight earlier,” Mohr said. “We do not expect rampant abuse of this policy. We do not think that our customers will fake having a potentially life-threatening allergy in order to simply board the plane a little bit faster.”