Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Northwest Airlines to serve peanuts again

Although my son has outgrown his allergy to peanuts, this report really bothers me.

As Jonathan Turley reports today, "[p]eople with allergies are legitimately outraged this week by the decision of Northwest Airlines to re-introduce peanuts to its flights despite the large number of kids and adults with severe allergies to the snack."

Given that there are other snacks available that do not pose such a danger to passengers and that it is widely known that millions of Americans are allergic to peanuts, the decision to continue to serve peanuts is incredible. American Airlines stopped using peanuts years ago (they serve pretzels instead-- although these days I am not sure they serve anything at all anymore, but that is another story). Turley reports that

"[t]he airline insists that “We’ll create a buffer zone of three rows in front of and three rows behind your seat. We’ll also advise cabin service to board additional nonpeanut snacks, which will allow our flight attendants to serve these snack items to everyone within this area.” Forgive me for being doubtful. It is often hard to even get a seat on airplanes. I would be interested to see who the airline will accommodate millions of passengers needing a “buffering zone,” as opposed to saying that they will have to take another flight. More importantly, the risk remains that there will be exposure to peanuts in the bathroom, seat armrests, seat trays etc. I remain surprised that airlines have not been held negligent over the use of this snack, which is clearly preferred because it is a cheap option. For the full story, click here." 

I could not agree more. One time when my boy was 1 or 2 years old a flight attendant who thought he was cute pinched his ckeeks. In a matter of minutes his face had turned red and developed a terrible rash. By the time the plane landed we had to shoot him full of medicine to prevent him from getting really sick... and his allergy was not even that severe (which is why he eventually outgrew it). It is not a stretch to say that a severely allergic child could have died. Assuming a kid does die under similar circumstances, couldn't the plaintiffs prove the level or risk, the number of people at risk, and the low cost of avoiding it.... Couldn't they build a good negligence case? Assuming they can show that the executives who made the decision knew of the risk and decided to go ahead anyway, could they support a plea for punitives....?


Anonymous said...

With all due respect, I beg to differ Prof. Bernabe. The public policy impact of this decision will severely cripple the food industry. If there is no remedy for the allergy a plaintiff could make a convincing case. However, I believe you are looking at Hand's law very narrowly. Peanuts are widely used in the food industry and they are frequently processed on equipment used for making other foods. What is the cost of having dedicated processing lines for peanuts only. Also, as you put it parents could take precautions such as carrying shots with them. Airlines could carry the medicines on board. And finally there are private modes of transportation. Should the CTA have peanut scanners so that people don't board the L or buses with peanuts, should the Taste of chicago not allow peanuts to be sold. Again I respecfully disagree.

Anonymous said...

Being a former teacher, I have seen the effects of peanut allergies. Not fun. One of my friends even teaches at a "peanut free" school. If we make this accomodation in schools, then why shouldn't we make it in the air? This decision is creating unnecessary risk. Protecting children is paramount- not promoting the peanut industry (sorry Carver!) The industry is not going to lose my business...nothing better than a p b and j. We must protect the children. Period.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday, Feb. 19, my cousin was in Springfield testifying about a new bill that would require teachers to carry epipens. This bill is based on the increasing number of children allergic to peanuts. Are we assuming the teacher and school is now responsible for what a child eats or brings to school. An airplane's fix is quite simple, but the larger picture of the school leads where? There are peanut free school that do not allow students to bring peanut butter sandwiches to school. Why does a legislative body have the right to tell people what they can or cannot eat, or a legislative body for that matter? We are already asking to teachers to do too much and 60% leave after the first year. This bill will drive more quality teachers out.

Professor Alberto Bernabe said...

Although I think to suggest that teachers are going to quit because they are required to carry epipens is a bit much, Peter raises a different and interesting point (Amy too). First of all, before someone brings this up, there should be no doubt that part of the responsibility over the risks of allergies belongs to the parents. They have to educate their children to make sure the kids make safe choices. But have you met a 5 year old lately? They don’t always follow what parents tell them; they do make mistakes and they do make bad choices. I think parents are justified in expecting that schools will do everything they can to minimize the risks that kids are exposed to. After all, we entrust our kids to them; the least they can do is take good care of them for us. The real problem with all this is that most schools are underfunded and understaffed – which is a problem with the educational system in this country, but that is another story. Under those conditions, the schools, worried about possible liability for not taking as many precautions as could be taken, will opt for the least costly, easier to implement alternative. It is cheaper and easier to ban peanuts entirely than to regulate them. That decision, probably made at a local level - not legislatively - saves the school money, time and worries regarding liability. The problem is not that a government body, or the parents of children with allergies, are imposing their views on others, the problem is that schools don’t have (or claim they don’t have) the resources to address the problem more adequately.