From ‘Airline should take peanut allergy seriously’, 1 Feb 2011, ST Forum online
(Ai-Leng Hong): ON A Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight from Auckland to Singapore on Dec 13, my seven-year-old son experienced an anaphylactic reaction by inhaling peanut dust released when peanut snack packs were opened during the flight.
Despite earlier requests to not serve peanuts on board, SIA would not accommodate our request as it had stopped its “nut-free environment on board” policy.
Fortunately, my son did not die from that anaphylactic reaction as we had an adrenalin injection pen which we administered to him.
Following advice given by a senior crew member, we lodged another request to SIA to not serve peanut snacks on our scheduled return trip on Jan 11. Unfortunately, the airline refused to not serve peanuts on board.
…The commercial imperative is clear: Serve peanuts and neglect the duty of care that the airline has to provide a safe environment for all its passengers – including those suffering from allergies.
It would take a philosopher to distill the moral ambiguity in this situation, whether it is ethical for airlines to deprive hundreds of passengers of peanuts in order to prevent one child of unnecessary suffering or even death. This peanut problem is confounded by locality and circumstance, namely passengers bounded by a common recycled breathing space, with barely elbow room between each other and complicit in the knowledge that slightest disturbance could affect every single person on board. Now, hypothetically, if I had a rare disease, not unlike the prevalence of anaphylactic peanut allergy, which predisposes me to shock and epileptic fits whenever I smell life jackets, wouldn’t it then be utterly unreasonable of me to request the airlines to remove all life jackets on board? All kinds of fatal hazards may occur on a plane which may not necessarily involve peanut allergens. Stagnant legspace may have a blood clot shuttling to my lungs while watching inflight Lord of the Rings trilogy. I may choke on a fish bone, or a baby could get smothered purple by a pillow while sleeping, does that give people the right to demand for wider aisles, ban all food with bones, or pillows?
The question then, is how preventable we deem peanut allergy to be such that appropriate precautions can be taken without inconveniencing others, and if it happens that someone on board is hypersensitive short of putting him in an aseptic bubble, I’m sure some understanding and sacrifice on the part of passengers, out of a simple concern for a fellow traveller, to open their peanut packs carefully in vacuum sealed bags or just keep them for later, would probably make the flight pleasant and hazard free for everyone without calling for a total nutty ban altogether. Still, it’s probably unfair of the complainant to blame SIA for not fostering a safe environment just because they expose passengers to peanuts, when they are so many other safety checks in place to ensure the damn plane doesn’t go up in flames and kill everyone, not just allergy sufferers. So, in the grand scheme of things, for hiring competent pilots, for having a decent ventilation system, for making sure the wings don’t fall apart, I would say that SIA is already taking good care of the majority of passengers, in terms of preventing what kills MOST people, whether or not they ban peanuts on board. They may have to do something about serving business class hysteria-causing drunken chicken though.
Postcript: In a SIA response on 3 Feb 2011, ST Forum online ‘SIA does offer nut-free meals’ (The first day of Chinese New Year mind you), Senior Vice President of Products and Services Tan Pee Teck stated that ‘…from 2002 to mid-2009, we offered to remove nuts and meals containing nuts and nut-derivatives from the class of travel the requesting passenger was on. However, we received numerous feedback from customers questioning this policy.’ i.e we tried to but got complaints by passengers who insist on peanuts. You just can’t please everyone really, and all this fuss over some nuts on a plane.