Thursday, February 26, 2009

If Food Allergies are Disabilities - Why is it OK to Ignore Them????

I am sure all 5 of you that read my blog are well aware that due to Northwest's merger with Delta, they are bringing back the evil peanut to their airline. Below are some of the great allergy blogs, etc that are trying to bring awareness to this issue.

Food Allergy Buzz post on the issue.

You Don't Need Nuts to Fly Facebook Page

Allergic Living's Campaign

The Nut Free Mom's Blog which has tons of great info, including a few posts about Northwest's return to the evil peanut.

After hearing about this disturbing development, I thought I would start to do a little research into the past history of peanuts on airplanes. I remembered some sort of discussion about it from the good old days when I had no clue peanut allergies existed. (and probably thought those people who don't want peanuts on airplanes are crazy). Here is some of the interesting information I found.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued instructions that all airlines were to declare at least three rows peanut free zones for all flights including any medically-diagnosed peanut-allergy sufferer. This was to bring policy in-line with the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act. Congress failed to grant financial support to enforce the directive and Newt Gingrich denounced the Clinton administration's anti-peanut attitude, but most airlines chose to comply anyhow. Some of them even began advertising their lower fat snack foods.

Mr. Peanut Goes to Court
Journal of Law and Health, Spring of 1999

"Recently, the Department of Transportation, "DOT," declared peanut allergy a "disability" under the Air Carrier Access Act,(1) a 1986 law that guarantees disabled passengers access to airliners, and which can be considered the air travel equivalent of the Americans With Disabilities Act, ("ADA.")(2) In doing so, the DOT sent letters to ten of the major airlines explaining that a medically diagnosed allergy to peanuts constitutes a "disability" under the Carrier Act.(3) Accordingly, the to DOT created "peanut-free zones" or "buffer zones," where peanuts would not be served, on commercial air flights in order to protect passengers who notify the airline in advance of their documented allergy to peanuts.(4)

In response, Congress, pressured by lobbyists for the peanut industry, attached a repealer to the 1999 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that prohibits the DOT from spending any money to implement "peanut free zones" and further requires the DOT to submit to Congress "a peer reviewed scientific study" which documents the severe allergic reactions before the DOT can once again move for "peanut free zones."(5) Even after Congress' response, the DOT is still recommending "buffer zones" on commercial flights; however, without funding, enforcement of the zones has become impossible.(6)"

Although I am not sure if this has changed over the past 10 or so years, it seems based on this that food allergies are considered a disability under Department of Transportation guidelines, so if you feel that you have been discriminated against due to your allergy, you have the right to (and should) file a complaint with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division. You can find the form at

Also, the below is from the website of the Department of Transportation, Consumer Protection Division

Passengers with Disabilities
The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires U.S. air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities. The Department of Transportation has a rule defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of air carriers under this law. The following is a summary of the main points of the DOT rule (Title 14 CFR, Part 382).
Prohibition of Discriminatory Practices
Carriers may not refuse transportation to people on the basis of disability. Airlines may exclude anyone from a flight if carrying the person would be inimical to the safety of the flight. If a carrier excludes a person with a disability on safety grounds, the carrier must provide a written explanation of the decision.Airlines may not require advance notice that a person with a disability is traveling. Carriers may require up to 48 hours’ advance notice for certain accommodations that require preparation time (e.g., respirator hook-up, transportation of an electric wheelchair on an aircraft with less than 60 seats).
Carriers may not limit the number of disabled persons on a flight.
Carriers may not require a person with a disability to travel with an attendant, except in certain limited circumstances specified in the rule. If a disabled passenger and the carrier disagree about the need for an attendant, the airline can require the attendant, but cannot charge for the transportation of the attendant.
Airlines may not keep anyone out of a seat on the basis of handicap, or require anyone to sit in a particular seat on the basis of handicap, except as an FAA safety rule requires. FAA's rule on exit row seating says that carriers may place in exit rows only persons who can perform a series of functions necessary in an emergency evacuation.

I don't know how relevant any of this is, but the ex-lawyer in me thought I would consolidate all sorts of info I have found on my travels through the Internet superhighway. I am curious to know if anyone has used this before to file some sort of disability complaint, especially if they were kicked off a plane.
But, enough for now, screaming sick children are calling me to sit with them while we are waiting for the benedryl to kick in.........

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