What's In Your Peanut?

Peanuts aren't a free snack on the commercial flights I take these days, and I don't bring my own peanuts with me. If the U.S. Department of Transportation goes the distance with a proposed rulemaking it published Tuesday, we airline passengers may lose both options: All peanut products could be banned from commercial flights, including anything peanut-related carried by the passengers.

And wouldn't you know it: At the same moment, Soheila J, Maleki, a research chemist in Food Processing and Sensory Quality Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported in London that her team is succeeding at developing a hypoallergenic peanut, which could make allergic reactions less severe and less common.

The DOT proposal goes beyond peanuts, encompassing tarmac delays, disclosure of baggage fees and flight cancellations, etc. DOT wants comments on the proposal by Aug. 9 (docket number DOT-OST-2010-0140 at http://www.regulations.gov).

Where's the authority for banning peanuts, you may ask? DOT finds it the Air Carrier Access Act's prohibition of discrimination by U.S. and foreign air carriers against individuals with disabilities. The DOT regulation putting the act into effect, Part 382, defines an individual with a disability as any individual who has a physical or mental impairment that, on a permanent or temporary basis, substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. "Generally, a person with an allergy is not an individual with a disability," the proposal acknowledges. "However, 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."

DOT told airlines back in 1998 that, if given advance notice, they should provide a peanut-free zone immediately around a passenger with a medically documented severe allergy to peanuts. Congress soon warned it would cease funding DOT's Aviation Enforcement Office if this guidance were carried out, so the Transportation Department wisely desisted. Now, Congress apparently has moved on, and "this specific congressional ban on our involvement in this issue has not appeared recently in any legislation," according to DOT.

The peanut-free zone remains an option. DOT wants to know how peanuts and peanut products brought on board by passengers should be handled, how likely a passenger with allergies to peanuts is to have a severe adverse health reaction by being exposed to the airborne transmission of peanut particles in an aircraft cabin, whether carrying an epinephrine auto-injector on flights is adequate preparation for a severe reaction, and whether there is recent scientific or anecdotal evidence of serious in-flight medical events related to the airborne transmission of peanut particles.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Jun 09, 2010