Travelling with a nut allergy? If so, you are now legally eligible for preboarding according to a recent ruling made by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT).

The ruling, which was made on May 16, stipulates that “passengers with severe nut allergies are passengers with disabilities” and are therefore covered under Air Carrier Access Act 382.5, which defines physical disabilities. So, air carriers are required to offer preboarding to passengers with severe nut allergies who say they need additional time or assistance to board, stow accessibility equipment or be seated.

The Cases

This ruling came in response to cases filed in 2017 by Alicia White and Food Allergy Research and Education, Inc. (FARE). White filed her case after American Airlines refused to let her family preboard in order to wipe down their seats to reduce the chances of her son, who has a life-threatening peanut allergy, coming into contact with allergens.

This sentiment of wiping down surfaces is supported by FARE in their complaint, which states that “individuals with severe allergies can experience an allergic reaction not only by ingesting food, but also through skin contact.”

FARE’s statement goes on to say that “preboarding would allow individuals with allergies and their families to wipe down seating areas, tray tables, armrests and seat covers to prevent skin contact with allergens,” thereby risking contact with allergens and alleviating anxiety, particularly in children with severe allergies.

Related: From the Flight Deck: Airline Peanut Policies Ranked

The Impact

While some airlines have historically allowed preboarding and made other provisions for passengers with food allergies, policy differed from airline to airline and was often not thoroughly enforced on the ground (or in the air). This DOT ruling will require that all airlines treat passengers with nut allergies as passengers with disabilities and give them the attention and services they require to safely travel with their allergy.

In their answers to cases filed against them, American Airlines made sure to recount a previous statue that prohibits DOT from banning peanuts or requiring airlines to create a peanut-free buffer zone as a part of their defense—so don’t expect those little packs of peanuts to disappear just yet.

Although the May 16 ruling created legal precedent that allows preboarding, Alicia White and FARE’s specific cases were dismissed in light of American Airline’s new policy (which became effective in December 2018) that allows preboarding for customers with food allergies.

Keep Attendees Healthy After the Flight

Attendees are now can be confident that they can travel hassle-free with their allergies. Planners might now consider extending that peace of mind to their events. Replacing allergens (peanuts and tree nuts, for example) with alternatives is an easy option to ensure a safe environment. If your attendees can’t live without a Thai peanut curry or almond tart, however, planners can at least make sure everything is properly labelled and maintain a clean serving station to reduce contamination.

Related: Helpful Tips for Dealing with Allergies on Flights

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