Air Canada Unveils Proposals for Nut-free Buffer Zones  

By Sarah Schmidt, Canwest News ServiceFebruary 16, 2010  

Air Canada has been ordered to create a nut-free zone on flights to accommodate passengers with serious nut allergies in response to a complaint by two passengers.

OTTAWA — Air Canada says nut-free buffer zones as small as one large seat and as large as three rows will be adequate to accommodate passengers with nut allergies.

In a newly released submission to the government agency overseeing airline consumer complaints, Canada’s largest airline says the “pod-like seats” in its international wide body aircraft Executive First seats, positioned in a herringbone fashion, provide “sufficient isolation as to reduce to nil the risk
of contact for the passenger with nut allergies.”

And the appropriate buffer zone in business class is a single bank of seats where the passenger with nut allergies is sitting; a row in first class is made
up of two large seats.

In economy class, Air Canada proposes the buffer zone should include the seats immediately adjacent to the passenger in addition to the row of seats immediately behind and in front. The airline says that seats separated by an aisle “would be exposed to minimal if any risk of contact that would lead to accidental exposure.”

The Canadian Transportation Agency released Air Canada’s submission on Tuesday. The agency had given the airline a month to come up with a plan to create a “buffer zone” for each aircraft type when passengers with nut allergies warn them ahead of time.

In its submission, Air Canada says it can implement these buffer zones, provided passengers give the airline 48 hours notice.

The agency issued the directive in response to applications by two passengers, who argued that Air Canada lacked a formal policy to deal with travellers
with peanut or nut allergies; both suffer from potentially life-threatening nut allergies.

The agency ruled that the passengers in question, Sophia Huyer and Melanie Nugent, are considered persons with a disability, so the airline must lift any obstacles to their mobility through a formal policy.

After considering feedback from the complainants, the agency will now determine whether Air Canada’s proposal is adequate.

“It is clear from the evidence that there is a need for a formal policy to accommodate persons with disabilities due to their allergy to peanuts or nuts,”
the agency said in its ruling dated Jan. 6. “Such a policy would remove the uncertainty that an individual experiences each and every time they travel,
mitigating the risk that they will be exposed to an allergen with the possibility of experiencing serious consequences as a result.”

Huyer called Air Canada’s proposals “laughable.”

“The size of the buffer zone they are suggesting is minimal. Additionally, they are needlessly complicating the issue of appropriate notification by allergic passengers in order to make it more difficult for people with allergies to provide this notification, ” she said in an e-mail Tuesday.

“All the other airlines I have travelled with, and I travel with many around the world, have had no problem with tracking my nut allergy through their systems, and have been doing so for years.”

Huyer said she locked herself in the washroom for 40 minutes on one Air Canada flight while nut snacks were being served because mere exposure to them can cause a serious reaction in her.

In the wake of the tribunal’s January ruling, Huyer said she wants airlines to ban nuts outright. Air Canada hasn’t served peanuts on its flights in a decade, but it serves other nut snacks and allows passengers to purchase cashews and almonds.

Passengers can also carry their own nut snacks and meals to eat on the plane.

If the proposed buffer zones are accepted by the federal tribunal, Air Canada staff will inform the other passengers within the zone that no nuts are allowed.

WestJet has stopped serving or selling nuts and nut products on its flights, although passengers are free to bring them aboard. It asks passengers seated two rows behind and two rows ahead of someone with a nut allergy to refrain from eating or handling nuts.

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