Canada's transportation regulator has ordered Air Canada to accommodate passengers with severe nut allergies by seating them in new nut-free zones on aircraft.
"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," the Canadian Transportation Agency said in its ruling.
The agency had received two complaints from passengers with nut allergies since 2006.
One of the complainants had hidden in the airplane washroom for 40 minutes while nutty snacks were served to other passengers on a flight from Frankfurt to Toronto.
In another case, a traveler was removed and was rebooked on another flight two and a half hours later in which "all nuts were removed." Other passengers on the second flight were also asked not to bring nuts onboard.
In its ruling, the federal regulator noted that the nut allergies in these cases were so extreme that nuts did not have to be ingested. Rather, the mere presence of nuts in the immediate environment was "enough to cause concern."
The three-member panel deemed these allergies to be tantamount to an impairment or disability, which airlines must accommodate.
Air Canada argued it should be up to the passengers to take precautions against exposure to nuts. It does not serve peanuts on flights, but does serve smokehouse almonds, cashews and other snacks which may contain nuts.
"If a passenger is allergic or sensitive to products that may be found in the aircraft cabin, it is the passenger's responsibility to bring the proper medication and to have the proper protection," Air Canada said in its submission.
But allergy specialists said peanut proteins have been found in commercial airline air filters, demonstrating they may become aerosolized in flight and remain suspended in aircraft cabins.
The regulator said that creating a nut-free buffer zone is the best solution, and gave Air Canada 30 days to come up with a recommended size of the buffer.
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