OTTAWA — The country's largest airline has been ordered to create a nut-free zone on flights to accommodate passengers with serious nut allergies.
The government agency overseeing airline consumer complaints on Thursday gave Air Canada 30 days 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 addition to proposing the size of the zone, Air Canada must also tell the Canadian Transportation Agency what it deems adequate advance notice to institute the specified nut-free area in the cabin.
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.
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.
The decision, however, provides Air Canada with an out.
The airline can suggest another option to accommodate passengers with nut allergies if buffer zones constitute an "undue hardship, such as significantly affecting the commercial viability of its service."
But any proposed policy will have to be reviewed and approved by the agency, it said in a statement Thursday.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline is reviewing the newly released decision, and will have more to say later.
"We are now studying the ruling and its conclusions and we will respond with a submission within the time frame set out by the agency," he said in a statement Thursday.
Gwen Smith, editor-in-chief of Canadian magazine Allergic Living, spearheaded a campaign to get Air Canada to develop clear policies on allergies to minimize the risk of inflight allergic reactions.
Smith said Thursday she's pleased the agency has laid out a formal policy to reduce that risk after the letter-writing campaign didn't move Air Canada to act on its own.
"We need some formal policies. It really is risky. We found studies showing that up to one in 10 people with nut and peanut allergies were having reactions on flights, so this is significant," said Smith.
She just hopes the public "doesn't confuse" this decision with the debate swirling around newly instituted security-related measures and inconveniences placed on airline travellers.
"What people need to know is that this is not over the top. There are real reasons when you're 35,000 feet in the air and you have the kind of medical condition that can come on incredibly rapidly, this is sort of akin to somebody having a heart attack, and in fact that can be a symptom of anaphylaxis," said Smith.
Air Canada does not serve peanuts on any flights, but it does serve other nut snacks. Almonds and cashews can also be purchased from its On Board Cafe.
During the proceedings, the airline argued that it would be impossible to guarantee that meals served on flights are free of peanuts or other foods to which a person may be allergic; some meals are prepared by sub-suppliers, Air Canada pointed out.
Besides, the airline can't be responsible for passengers who may bring peanuts or other nut products on board, Air Canada argued.
In its decision, the agency says it recognizes that "for operational reasons," it may not always be possible to provide a buffer zone when a passenger does not provide advance notice.
In such instances when advance notice is not provided, and where Air Canada is unable to institute a nut-free zone at the last minute, the airline could place the passenger on the next practicable flight to give it time to institute a buffer zone, the decision states.
I wonder when airlines will create dust-free zones ... and noise-free zones... and mold-free zones.........