Petition calls for peanut-free zones on planes

Petition calls for peanut-free zones on planes
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The parent of a child with a life-threatening peanut allergy is fighting for new rules to protect airline passengers who have severe food allergies.

Lianne Mandelbaum, who says she was practically kicked off a United Airlines flight last year because of her son’s condition, has been lobbying for new protections for allergy sufferers.

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Now, more than 14,000 people are coming to her aid, petitioning lawmakers and federal regulators to establish a "buffer zone" around passengers who are allergic to certain foods.

“I am not after a nut ban,” Mandelbaum said. “Just the ability to preboard, wipe down the seat area and make an announcement that will let everyone live with their own moral compass around me.”

The petitioners are calling for a rule that would prohibit airlines from serving snacks containing nuts to any passenger sitting near someone with a peanut allergy. Furthermore, passengers who bring peanuts on board would not be allowed to eat them during the flight, if they are sitting within the buffer zone.

The buffer zone would extend to passengers sitting in the three rows in front of or behind someone with a severe peanut allergy. 

The rules would also prevent airlines from removing passengers who have peanut allergies. 

When Mandelbaum reported her son's allergy to United Airlines, she recalls being told: "Well, if you think he's going to die, don't get on the plane."

"Children and adults with food allergies should be able to report their allergy without fear of being kicked off a flight," Mandelbaum said. "As it stands, they have no such rights and cases have been reported of people being taken off a flight for reporting a food allergy."

Currently, there are no federal rules protecting airlines passengers who have peanut allergies, Mandelbaum says — something she is hoping to change.

Mandelbaum successfully convinced the New Jersey Senate to protect airline passengers with peanut allergies in 2013. 

But she is pushing for federal rules that would expand the protections for passengers around the country.

Mandelbaum is also meeting with officials at top airlines, asking them to establish company policies protecting passengers with peanut allergies. She noted that "different flight crews on the same airline will react differently to a food allergy request" without set policies. 

She has had some success in her efforts.

WestJet has stopped serving peanuts on board, while Jet Blue Airways will create a buffer zone for allergic passengers upon request, Mandelbaum said.

However, United Airlines has shown "no signs" of changing its policy, following the incident where she was asked to take her son off the flight, Mandelbaum said.

Delta Airlines has not responded to her request, she added.

The petition is being hosted by Care2, an activist website that hosts petitions from public interest, environmental and health groups.