What’s Going on Here Now?
1. Comment is closed on this post. We are now in the summary-building phase.
A summary of all discussion on Peanut Allergies will be sent to DOT Department of Transportation and become part of the official record of the rulemaking. The first draft of this summary is available here. You can review and comment on the draft until September 17.
After September 17, the Regulation Room Team will revise the draft based on everyone’s comments. The Final Summary of Discussion will be posted here on Regulation Room and submitted to DOT Department of Transportation no later than September 23 (when the public comment period officially ends).
2. Scientific evidence about peanut allergies is very important to what DOT Department of Transportation should do. The Regulation Room team has sent email invitations to allergy researchers asking them to discuss what the evidence shows. You can get more details about who was invited, and read what the experts are saying, here.
Only invited experts can comment on the Peanut Expert page. If you know of an expert who hasn’t been invited, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This post has been revised to reflect the Clarification issued by DOT Department of Transportation on June 22, 2010.
Peanut allergies can be more serious than a lot of us realize, especially for children. DOT Department of Transportation believes that a severe peanut allergy counts as a disability — and federal law prohibits air carriers from discriminating against individuals with a disability. DOT Department of Transportation is wondering whether specific steps should be taken to accommodate air travelers with severe peanut allergies — and what those steps should be. Before it could push airlines to take such steps, DOT Department of Transportation has to report to Congress about scientific evidence that such allergies can be triggered by airborne peanut particles – which is why DOT Department of Transportation is specifically asking people for information about such studies, as well as for their personal stories.
This post will tell you more about what the problems have been, and what solutions DOT Department of Transportation is considering — and alert you to questions DOT particularly wants people to comment on.
Not all peanut allergies are serious enough to keep the sufferer off airplanes. But when airlines serve peanuts on board as an in-flight snack, severe allergy sufferers may not even have to eat the peanuts to have a reaction. For these travelers, including many children, just the presence of peanut particles in the air can bring on a life-threatening allergic reaction.
Congress has given DOT Department of Transportation mixed signals on this issue. The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities by U.S. and foreign air carriers, and DOT regulations require airlines to accommodate travelers with disabilities unless doing this would cause an “undue burden” or require the airline to “fundamentally alter its services”. But in 1999, when DOT Department of Transportation informed airlines that this applied to peanut allergies, Congress withdrew DOT Department of Transportation funding for any restriction on airline peanut practices.
Usually funding restrictions like this last for only one year, but Senator Richard Shelby, the Senator from Alabama responsible for adding this item to DOT’s 1999 appropriations bill, worded the restriction to apply to funding “under this Act or any other Act.” DOT has clarified that it realizes that this language means the restriction is still in effect – a move that was praised by two Representatives of Georgia, Sanford Bishop and Jim Marshall. But there’s another way in which the 1999 funding restriction was unusual: The restriction applies only “until 90 days after submission to the Congress and the Secretary [of Transportation] of a peer-reviewed scientific study that determines that there are severe reactions by passengers to peanuts as a result of contact with very small airborne peanut particles of the kind that passengers might encounter in an aircraft.” So, it comes down to whether there’s data about the seriousness of the problem.
DOT thinks perhaps the time has come to address again the problems of travelers with severe peanut allergies. It is considering the following options:
- An outright ban on airlines serving peanuts and peanut products
- Banning service of peanuts and peanut products only on a flight where a passenger with a peanut allergy requests a peanut-free flight in advance
- Requiring the airline to provide a peanut-free buffer zone around a passenger with a medically-documented severe peanut allergy if the passenger makes a request in advance.
But DOT Department of Transportation is open to other solutions, as well as to not adopting any regulation on this issue. See next section. Most important, the first step is that DOT Department of Transportation has to present scientific evidence, accepted as valid by experts who did not actually do the study (“peer-reviewed”), that airborne peanut particles circulating in airplane air can cause severe reactions.
How likely it is that a passenger with a severe peanut allergy will suffer a reaction from peanut particles in the air on a flight? DOT Department of Transportation is asking for both individual stories of serious in-flight medical problems from airborne peanut particles, and scientific studies on the issue.
Assuming that such studies exist, what steps should airlines have to take, if any, to avoid this danger? Would an epinephrine auto-injector, to allow immediate treatment of an allergic reaction, be sufficient? If so, should it be the responsibility of the airline, or the passenger, to provide it?
Should any food item containing peanuts be covered in a restriction, including e.g., peanut butter crackers and products containing peanut oil?
See the proposed rule text on this issue: DOT has not proposed specific text yet because it first needs to present scientific evidence to Congress.
Got data? DOT Department of Transportation is looking for some.