Should Nuts Remain Outside The Cabin Post-COVID?

If you have a severe allergy to a food substance, one of the scariest places you can be is 45,000ft in the air in a pressurized metal tube surrounded by that food. Over 3 million Americans suffer from nut allergies, and yet many airlines still offer nuts as a complimentary snack. For some passengers, a free snack could be deadly. With the suspension of many meals due to health and safety reasons, now is an excellent time to ask, do we really need them back?

In-flight service
COVID-19 has changed the way airlines serve food. Should airlines think about making some changes permanent? Photo: Getty Images

We reported last month that the supplier of American Airlines mixed nuts snack is struggling as the airline is no longer providing nuts to passengers. COVID-19 concerns have forced airlines to change what and how they serve food. For many, this is an annoyance; for others, it is a life-saving move.

Banning nuts onboard

Banning nuts onboard aircraft is easier said than done. Firstly, while an airline may choose not to serve nuts, airlines cannot guarantee that all food served was made in a nut-free environment. In this case, all food suppliers would have to be nut-free as well. Additionally, an airline cannot stop passengers from bringing their own food onto a flight. Any passenger can pick up a bag of nuts at the airport to consume them once in the air.

Again, the solution here to ban nuts at the airport is also virtually impossible. Since individuals can access nuts so easily, airlines banning nuts won’t make much of a difference. Considering nut allergies affect just 1% of the world’s population, the effort of creating a nut-free environment compared to the number of people it would help doesn’t seem worth it.

Air Canada Signature service
Most nuts are served in first or business class as a free snack. This implies they are unnecessary luxuries. Photo: Air Canada

Are they essential?

However, on the other side of the argument are those with nut allergies. While many only react if they eat a nut, for some with more severe allergies, just being handed a moist towelette by a cabin crew member who touched the nuts is enough to trigger a reaction. Studies have found that bowls of nuts in bars and restaurants are often full of more germs and bacteria than the lavatories.

With COVID-19 highlighting the importance of cleanliness, many would rather sacrifice a free bowl of nuts than their health. Although bowls of nuts are given to individual passengers, they are still handled by cabin crew.

Most airlines only give free nuts to first class or business class passengers anyway. Changing from nuts to some other snack or to individual bags may not be such a stretch. Of course, airlines will then have to consider the environmental impact of using individually bagged snacks with more packaging.

The airline vs. the individual

COVID-19 has forced airlines to suspend or minimize their food offerings, and nuts were one of the first things to go. Do we really need them back if they are putting other passengers at risk? There is an argument that the responsibility lies not with the airline, but with the individual.

If a passenger is carrying medication and makes their allergy known, then an airline can respond appropriately, but that doesn’t mean removing nuts from all flights. After all, should an airline also take steps to remove egg, dairy, shellfish, and wheat from their services? These other common causes of allergic reactions are present on almost all flights.

A320 easyJet
easyJet is one of several airlines proving you can ban nuts onboard. But would it work on long-haul flights? Photo: Getty Images

easyJet announced last year it would no longer serve nuts and would ask passengers not to bring nuts onboard. However, other airlines make announcements suspending the service of nuts on flights when a passenger with an allergy has identified themselves. This sometimes leads to outrage and headshaking from other passengers who crave a nutty snack. On the other hand, it’s certainly a nicer announcement to hear than “do we have a doctor on board?”.

Whatever happens in the future, it’s clear that COVID-19 has provided the perfect opportunity or airlines to revaluate their services. Should nuts be brought back? Should extra cleaning become the new normal? There’s no doubt that significant changes will continue to rock the industry. Until things settle down, you can always enjoy American Airlines’ nut mix from the comfort and safety of your own home.

What are your thoughts? Let us know what you think in the comment section.