Nuts on a Plane
Airlines are banning nuts on flights purportedly to help people with nut allergies. But there’s no credible scientific evidence allergic reactions can be triggered by flying nut particles, passive skin contact or the smell of nuts. So, why are they doing it?
Airlines can drive you crazy. But they won’t make you nuts. Why airlines are banning nuts on a plane when scientists say this is crackers?
Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. If you’re jetting away on your summer holiday, it’s likely the cabin crew will make an announcement at the start of your flight.
I was on a Ryanair plane recently and the stewardess announced one passenger had a nut allergy and therefore she was requesting all 200 passengers desist from eating nuts during the journey. She also informed us they would not be selling nuts as snacks.
My immediate reaction was: really? How can people eating nuts cause a problem for one person with an allergy? Here are the facts:-
A nut allergy is caused by hypersensitivity in the immune system to certain proteins in tree nuts or peanuts.
It can cause itchiness, swelling, ezcema, diarrhoea and asthma.
In the worst case scenario, a person could go into a life threatening, anaphylactic shock, for which the treatment is an immediate injection of adrenalin.
Diagnoses of nut allergies have sky-rocketed in recent years. One in fifty primary school children apparently has this problem.
And parents become extremely anxious when they see or smell nuts around them. But this emotional response is disproportionate.
There is no scientific evidence that tiny nut particles in the air cause a problem.
A 2012 study presented at the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology found peanut protein does not easily become airborne and therefore significant exposure to it via inhalation is unlikely. (Makinson et al, 2012).
There is no problem from the smell of nuts. Because the proteins that trigger the allergic reaction are not present in the smell.
Some people believe they’re at risk from skin contact from nut-dust on trays, seats and other surfaces.
Again; a Canadian Ministerial Inquiry into nut allergies found: little or no evidence there is a risk of anaphylaxis due to skin contact with peanut, nut or sesame seed allergens; rather, any risk would be as a result of accidental ingestion.
In other words, you would have to touch a surface with nut dust and then put your fingers in your mouth.
And even then, there would have to be a sufficient quantity of dust before it causes a problem.
Of course, scientists never say never. There’s a risk a meteorite could land on my head in the next five seconds. But what is the probability?
Virtually all the scientific research says there’s no specific risk from nuts on a plane; only the general risk that allergy sufferers face in any public environment.
Even if there were a specific risk, these nut bans would be totally ineffective. You would have to ban nuts on all flights, all of the time. The cabins would need to be thoroughly cleaned between flights. And you would need to go through every label on every food product brought onto the plane to check for nut ingredients. But why stop with nuts, what about shellfish and milk allergies? The list goes on and on.
The Civil Aviation Authority - the regulator of commercial airlines - says there ARE reports of passengers developing allergic symptoms on planes, but there’s no evidence this is caused by other people eating nuts.
It says adrenaline is used on planes on a “small number of occasions” each year, but there have been zero recorded cases of anyone dying of anaphylactic reaction on any aircraft, ever.
So, when an airline asks you not to eat nuts, this is either a cynical PR ploy to make them seem caring.
Or they are going through the motions of appearing to do something, just in case they are sued under health and safety rules.
But the airlines must know these policies are ridiculous, without any scientific merit.
The advice to people with nut allergies is to warn cabin crew of their condition, to bring their own food, a supply of adrenaline and to wipe down all surfaces.
Sensible self management is sufficient. There’s absolutely no need for anything else.
Thanks for watching.