Air Canada offers allergy-free zone

QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:30 AM ET

Jennifer Hewitt won't change any of her safety habits following today's announcement that a buffer zone for travelers with peanut and nut allergies will soon be mandatory on all flights on Air Canada.

The Kingston, Ont., student has suffered from a deadly nut/peanut allergy since she was an infant and has developed the appropriate defenses over the course of her life. But the Canadian Transportation Agency is trying to make air travel just a little bit easier for her.

The CTA ruled today that people with peanut and nut allergies face significant barriers to safe travel and should be treated as having a disability. As such, all accommodations should be made to ensure their safety while travelling with Air Canada.

"The Agency has determined that a buffer zone, including an announcement within that zone, is the appropriate accommodation for persons with disabilities due to their allergy to peanuts or nuts," reads a portion of the decision.

Passengers whose seats fall within the buffer zone - the size of which has yet to be determined - will be alerted to the safety needs of their fellow passenger and directed to behave accordingly.

"Passengers within that zone must be notified of the allergy and asked to refrain from eating peanuts or nuts and products that contain them," the Agency said. "There is no need to make a general announcement to the entire aircraft."

Food particles need to be aerosolized or travel on specs of dust in order to be ingested and cause an allergic reaction. The likelihood of this happening in an environment where all re-circulated air travels through hospital-grade hepafilters, the CTA found is minimal.

Instead, the Agency found the highest risk for allergic reaction would come from people in neighbouring seats onboard the aircraft accidentally bringing nuts or peanuts in contact with the allergic passenger.

The complaint was triggered following a series of flights taken by Sophia Huyer in 2006 in which her need for accommodations because of her allergies was treated differently with every flight. Once she was forced to take a different flight from the one upon which she was booked due to the severity of her allergies. Another time, the captain of the aircraft asked her to sign a waiver releasing the crew from responsibility if she did experience an allergic reaction.

But for Hewitt, the gesture is both too little and too much.

While she believes that she is responsible for her own safety, she also points out that people allergic to everything non-peanut/nut are not accomodated by the policy.

"What about the people who have deathly allergies to other things?" she asks.

"All people have all types of different allergies and those people should be responsible for themselves."

Air Canada now has 30 days to file a submission about how far in advance people with allergies need to alert the airline of their needs, and how large a buffer zone is appropriate to ensure passenger safety and comfort.

While the decision is only binding to Air Canada, other airlines are expected to follow suit.


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