A section of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s latest proposal on consumer protections is giving the peanut industry a serious case of hives.
The DOT proposal covers several points, from requiring fair price advertising to mandating timely notification of flight-status changes. On top of that, the department said it’s also reconsidering how to deal with peanuts on planes, and it requested public comment on the subject.
"DOT believes that a severe peanut allergy counts as a disability -- and federal law prohibits air carriers from discriminating against individuals with a disability," according to a website the DOT set up with the Cornell e-Rulemaking Initiative, whose goal is to help government more effectively use the Internet in crafting rules.
The website adds that for those few people with severe allergies, "just the presence of peanut particles in the air can bring on a life-threatening allergic reaction." Three options are outlined: banning airlines from serving peanuts; banning them only on flights where a person with a peanut allergy requests it ahead of time; or requiring a peanut-free “buffer zone” around an allergy sufferer if they ask ahead of time.
The department is open to other suggestions, the site explains, including doing nothing.
Martin Kanan, chief executive of the peanut-packaging company King Nut, told the Associated Press: "The peanut is such a great snack and such an American snack. What's next? Is it banning peanuts in ballparks?"
(Careful, Mr. Kanan: Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak points out that the Washington Nationals just created a peanut-free zone at their ballpark.)
Comments on the website have been all over the map.
One self-identified allergy sufferer called such a ban an infringement on other passengers' rights: "Maybe we should have 'plastic bubbles' for each individual passenger?"
"Let life and death be the standard for what foods to ban, and no one should have a problem with this issue," another commenter responded. "I didn't know that there was a sizable peanut lobby, nor that so many Americans tie their rights, freedom, and understanding of Capitalism to their ability to eat peanuts." (Snarktastic!)
Disclaimer, dear reader: Peanut allergies run in my family. I've seen my siblings just minutes from death in emergency rooms. It's no fun. Yes, as Dvorak points out in her column, many of us do feel guilty about imposing restrictions on others by our mere existence.
But for most people, it's just half a handful of peanuts they're giving up. To those who suffer from severe allergies, it's life and death.
Got an opinion on the topic? Go take a peek at the website, where you can read up and weigh in on several different airline issues. There are already more than 200 comments underneath the "peanuts" heading.
Check it out and decide for yourself.
-- Amina Khan
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Photo: A peanut. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times.