SAVANNAH, Ga. — Federal regulators are considering a snack attack on the nation's airlines that would restrict or even completely ban serving peanuts on commercial flights.
Advocates say the move would ease fears and potential harm to an estimated 1.8 million Americans who suffer from peanut allergies. Peanut farmers and food packagers, however, see it as overreaching and unfair to their legume.
"The peanut is such a great snack and such an American snack," says Martin Kanan, CEO of the King Nut Companies, an Ohio company that packages the peanuts served by most U.S. airlines. "What's next? Is it banning peanuts in ballparks?"
Twelve years after Congress ordered it to back off peanuts, the U.S. Transportation Department gave notice last week that it's gathering feedback from allergy sufferers, medical experts, the food industry and the public on whether to ban or restrict in-flight peanuts.
The peanut proposals were listed in an 84-page document including several other proposed consumer protections for air travelers. Three options were given: banning serving of peanuts on all planes; prohibiting peanuts only when an allergic passenger requests it in advance; or requiring an undefined "peanut-free zone" flight when a passenger asks for one.
While those options only pertain to peanuts served by flight crews, the document also states "we are particularly interested in hearing views on how peanuts and peanut products brought on board aircraft by passengers should be handled."
Spokesman Bill Mosely said the department is responding to concerns from travelers who either suffer from peanut allergies or have allergic children, "some of whom do not fly" because they're afraid of exposure.
"We're just asking for comment on whether we should do any of these three things," Mosely said. "We may not do any of them."
Peanut allergy can cause life-threatening reactions in people ingesting even trace amounts. Just breathing peanut dust in the air can cause problems — though usually minor ones — such as itching, sneezing and coughing.