For those with life-threatening peanut allergies, the idea of boarding a plane may be a significant concern. Rare are flights that do not offer bags of peanuts to passengers, and some debate has come over whether nuts should be banned from flight snack trays. How big is the risk to those with allergies if nearby passengers munches on peanuts during the flight? A new study looked at answering just that question.

According to Dr. Matthew Greenhawt, a researcher at the University of Michigan Food and Allergy Center, the risk is not great, but allergic reactions do occur on occasion. In a study by Greenhawt published in the latest issue of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, there are ways to avoid these reactions.

“Even though it’s a rare event, we wanted to determine what would influence that rare event from happening,” he said.

The study included 3,273 air travelers from 11 countries, some of which had in flight reactions, and asked them what they do to minimize their risks while flying. Common strategies included:

  • Requesting a buffer zone around allergy-affected passengers, in which nuts would not be served
  • Requesting a general announcement asking passengers to refrain from snacking on nuts
  • Ordering peanut or nut free meals
  • Wiping table trays with alcohol pads
  • Bringing own food and snacks
  • Refraining from using airline pillows and blankets
  • Wiping door handles, seatbelts and bathroom surfaces with alcohol pads
  • Carrying epinephrine

What precautions do you take if you have to fly?

Ramie A. Tritt, MD, President of Atlanta ENT