Some airlines are better than others when it comes to peanut and nut allergies. These allergies are some of the most prevalent of all allergies, and in general I'm very sympathetic to allergy sufferers, given that in my family there's a life threatening bee sting allergy that we carry an Epi-pen for, plus severe dog and cat allergies that mean we always stay at a hotel when visiting family or friends who have a dog or cat.
The difference between airlines (even in First Class) and luxury hotels couldn't be more different, when it comes to allergies. All the hotels I work with are keen to know any allergies my clients have, as well as food restrictions and preferences. The best among them keep a record of these in the guest profile, so as to avoid any issues with future stays at that hotel or even at other hotels in that brand. Airlines, on the other hand, where an allergy situation can be so much more serious due to the very confined space, rarely even offer a peanut-free or nut-free meal among their special order meals, and many won't make a general announcement to all passengers asking them to refrain from eating any peanut products they may have brought with them.
There was an NYT article today relating how passengers were kicked off an American Airlines flight just for informing the crew of the kids' severe nut allergies, even though they had come prepared with their own food and medicine. American Airlines is facing DoT complaints accusing the airline of discriminating against allergy sufferers, since American Airlines has an explicit policy denying pre-boarding to people with allergies (not allowing them to preboard to wipe down their seating area to get rid of peanut and nut residue) while not singling out any other group.
A number of airlines are completely silent on the topic of allergies, but of major carriers that my clients fly, here are the best and worst airlines for peanut and nut allergies. American Airlines is currently worst, and if you have a severe peanut or nut allergy, you may want to avoid flying them.
1. Delta Airlines
- After notifying Delta that you have a peanut allergy, Delta will refrain from serving peanuts and peanut products onboard your flight
- Delta will also advise catering to board additional non-peanut snacks, which will allow cabin crew to serve these snacks to passengers
- Gate agents will be notified in case you'd like to pre-board and cleanse the immediate sating area
- Delta still cannot guarantee that the flight will be completely peanut-free
- Although not specified, I'd recommend notifying Delta when booking your flight and no later than 48 hours before your flight of your peanut allergy, so non-peanut snacks can be organized for your flight
2. Air Canada
- Air Canada no longer carries bar snacks containing peanuts, but cannot provide a special meal that is nut or peanut-free, and cannot prevent other passengers bringing their own snacks containing peanuts or tree nuts
- Air Canada does not allow a child who is severely allergic to peanuts to travel as an unaccompanied minor
- If you have a severe allergy to peanuts or nuts you may request a buffer zone to be set up around your seat to help avoid the risk of exposure.
- Only the customers seated within the buffer zone will be informed that they must not consume nut or peanut products. They will not be offered any Air Canada snacks containing nuts.
- There will NOT be a general announcement to all customers about the existence of a buffer zone or about the customer with severe nut or peanut allergies.
- To request the buffer zone, you must contact the Air Canada Medical Assistance Desk (1-800-667-4732) at least 48 hours before your flight.
3. JetBlue Airlines
- JetBlue does not serve peanuts but does serve snack products containing tree nuts, and cannot guarantee that the aircraft or snacks will be 100% free of peanuts or their derivatives
- Please inform the head inflight crewmember upon boarding of your severe nut allergy. Upon request, a crew member will create a buffer zone one row in front and one row behind the allergic person. Crew will ask customers seated in the buffer zone to refrain from consuming any nut containing products they have brought onboard and will not serve any nut containing products to these rows.
- On a recent JetBlue Mint flight, my clients, one of whom has a nut allergy, was helpfully given the ingredients list of all the dishes served in JetBlue Mint by the flight crew, who was also happy to leave off an allergy-containing garnish.
- JetBlue will offer a full refund to customers for whom these conditions make it impossible to travel
4. Swiss Airlines
- SWISS bills itself as the first “allergy-friendly” airline, but it does NOT offer a nut-free meal
- Swiss Airlines does not serve peanuts on board but is unable to provide meals without any trace of peanuts
- Passengers with serious nut allergies should bring their own food that does not require chilling or heating on board
- Swiss requests all passengers NOT to bring peanuts on board with them.
- Cabin crew are trained to respond to an allergic emergency
5. British Airways
- Nuts (although not peanuts) are served on board, and meals may be produced at a facility that handles peanuts; therefore British Airways is unable to offer a peanut-free special meal
- Allowed to pre-board to wipe down your seating area. Passengers must bring their own wipes
- When boarding, you must inform the Cabin Crew of your severe peanut or tree nut allergy. If you request it, Cabin Crew will make an announcement so that other passengers are aware of your allergy. Cabin Crew ill suspend the serving of loose nut snacks in your cabin of travel.
6. Singapore Airlines
- Nut-free special meal is available that does not contain peanuts and tree nuts (including almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, macadamias and their derivatives). You must request a nut-free meal at least 48 hours before departure.
- Singapore Airlines does not serve peanuts as snacks to Economy Class passengers (as of April 2018) BUT meals with peanuts and/or other nuts ARE served in other classes of service. For example, Singapore Airlines' Book the Cook Meal Pre-Order selections out of Singapore include Chicken and Lamb Satay, which contains a spicy peanut sauce.
- Singapore Airlines cannot provide a nut-free cabin or guarantee an allergy-free environment on board as other passengers may be served meals containing nuts and may bring their own snacks containing nuts on board.
- On the face of it, Qantas seems as though it should be higher on this list, since Qantas claims to have eliminated peanuts as a bar snack on all flights and in all airport lounges, and to have minimized the use of peanuts in in-flight meals.
- Qantas also claims to provide “an extensive range of special meals inflight that are specifically designed not to include peanuts or other nuts, or products of peanuts or other nuts in the preparation of the meal.”
- Unfortunately, the above are belied by a recent comment below by Anthony, who wrote “…Qantas says they avoid putting nuts in all meals, however when we boarded we noticed a satay on the menu. Made with peanuts and topped with cashews and shellfish. I had called 2 years and again days before the flight.”
- There was also a recent incident reported in Australia of a teacher who had advised Qantas months before her flight of her nut allergy, and had written confirmation that no nuts would be served on board, only to encounter cabin staff who claimed they had no notes on her allergy, and would serve almonds anyway. So Qantas appears to have a disconnect between what it says it will do, and what cabin staff actually do, when it comes to passenger allergies.
8. Qatar Airways
- Qatar Airways does not have a special meal that is peanut-free or nut-free, but in the U.S., you can write to email@example.com to request a peanut-free and/or nut-free meal for your flight, as long as it's at least 48 hours before your flight.
- Note that Qatar Airways also requires a Waiver of Liability for allergies and Medical Information Form for severe allergies to be filed at least 48 hours prior to the flight.
9. American Airlines
- Update: As of 12/12/18, passengers with nut allergies may pre-board to wipe down seat area. This change has changed AA's place in the rankings.
- Nuts (although not peanuts) are served, and could have trace elements of peanuts
- No buffer zones
- Reported incidents of customers being kicked off the plane after alerting the crew to a severe nut allergy
10. Cathay Pacific Airlines
- Cathay Pacific does NOT provide peanut-free or tree nut-free special meals, and cannot guarantee cross-contamination of peanuts and/or tree nuts with in-flight catering. Allergic passengers should bring their own meals that do not require chilling or pre-heating.
- Cathay Pacific cannot prevent passengers from bringing their own peanut / tree nut products on board, and cannot insist they do not open or eat them.
- Cathay Pacific cannot make general announcements requesting other passengers refrain from consuming peanuts or tree nuts.
- Passengers with documented peanut and/or tree nut allergies can, subject to operational limitation, request priority boarding and bring their own cleaning wipes to wipe down their seating area.
11. United Airlines
- Nuts (although not pre-packaged peanuts) are served, and could have traces of peanuts
- No buffer zones
- “In some cases we may be able to pass along your request to other customers seated nearby to refrain from opening or eating any peanut products that they may have brought on board”
United Airlines Peanut Allergy Policy: prepare for possiblity of exposure
12. Etihad Airlines
- Nuts may be served on their own or be present as an ingredient in in-flight meals. Etihad does not guarantee a peanut-free environment or peanut-free meals on board
- It is possible that traces of peanuts or their derivatives could be in the cabin or the aircraft air conditioning
- Passengers with severe nut allergies should bring their own food. Cabin crew will be happy to warm your meal for you.
13. Emirates Airlines
- Nuts are served on all Emirates flights, either as a meal ingredient or as an accompaniment to drinks
- Emirates cannot guarantee peanut-free meals and does not provide nut-free meals–you should bring your own meal on board if you have a peanut allergy.
- Other passengers may also bring food onboard that could contain nuts
- Emirates accepts no responsibility for any allergic reaction you may suffer while on board
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