Wishing United’s New Nut Policy Went Further

September 8, 2014 – My initial positive reaction to United’s new policy pertaining to nut allergies as a step in the right direction was somewhat tempered by questions I had about the policy. United’s associate general counsel provided me some additional information that will hopefully help clarify a few things.

United has changed its policy so that flight attendants can pass along a customer’s request to the other passengers sitting nearby.   Now, when a nut allergic passenger boards the plane, they should notify the flight attendant of their nut allergy.  The flight attendant will then ask the passengers sitting nearby to refrain from eating nuts.  This certainly sounds like a buffer zone to me; however, the attorney with whom I spoke says they didn’t feel comfortable with the term “buffer zone” because they didn’t want to create a false sense of security that the space was clean and/or safe.  In addition, he says the airline can’t enforce a buffer zone nor can they deny boarding for passengers who refuse to comply.

We discussed the fact that this policy only pertains to peanuts and not tree nuts, which prompted me to ask about those passengers who have severe tree nut allergies, like my daughter.  He said they wouldn’t be able to remove anything from their carts which contain tree nuts, like trail mix with cashews, for example.

The solution, in my opinion, is when you board the plane you tell the flight attendant that you have a severe “nut” allergy.  You don’t go into details about whether it’s a peanut or tree nut.  We had a great flight crew last year that removed the trail mix from the cart for us.  Here again, I think it’s important to “kill them with kindness” and you’ll be more apt to have their cooperation.

In light of the announcement this week, I received several email messages from airline passengers who were told recently by United flight crews that they weren’t allowed to do anything for nut allergic passengers.  So, how’s it possible that members of the flight crew don’t know about the policy change?  Typically, members of the flight crew receive briefings which cover policy changes and updates prior to the start of their shifts.  The attorney acknowledged that some changes are seen as more important than others, and some pay more attention than others.  Traveling with a copy of United’s policy might not be such a bad idea.

In Other Airline News:

  • Both American and United recently announced changes to their first class meal service.  Both airlines have confirmed that these meals won’t replace their nut service.  You can still expect to find warmed mixed nuts in first class.

As Always, Safe Travels —