Flying Southwest Airlines With a Peanut Allergy

Southwest Airlines peanut allergyAbout four hours before a recent flight from Nashville to Tampa, I remembered that Southwest is one of the few airlines that still serves peanuts…and my son has a peanut allergy. As any parent would do, I went into panic mode and so did my wife. Suddenly, the issue really hit close to home and we found ourselves wondering why an airline would still serve this snack even though there are so many people with peanut allergies for whom the reaction can sometimes be fatal.

I used to love Southwest’s honey-roasted peanuts but when I discovered my son had a peanut allergy, I stopped eating them and gave up my favorite peanut butter at home. I’ve been on flights in the past where flight attendants have made an announcement letting people know that a fellow passenger has a peanut allergy and asking them to please not open or eat anything that contains peanuts. In one instance, someone across the aisle from me started eating a Snickers bar and I asked him if he’d heard the announcement. “There’s someone onboard with a peanut allergy,” I said, in shock. He obviously couldn’t have cared less. “It’s my Snickers bar,” he said and kept eating it. I could not believe that someone could so easily put another person’s life at risk…over a chocolate bar!

Back to my son’s flight: Since it was so close to departure time, I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought about buying tickets on another airline but Southwest is the only airline that flies non-stop between the two cities. Buying new tickets would not only have been prohibitively expensive but we would have also had to connect, which isn’t ideal with a 13-month-old toddler. I also thought about driving but when I saw it was 700 miles and an 11-hour drive, I nixed that idea.

I Googled “Southwest Airlines peanut allergy.” The first thing that came up was “Customers with Disabilities – Southwest Airlines.” I clicked it and then hit the “Allergies” tab on the left-hand sidebar and here’s what I learned:

  • Southwest Airlines is unable to guarantee a peanut-free or allergen-free flight.
  • When booking a new reservation, Customers may use the “Add/Edit Disability Options” on the Enter Traveler Info page to indicate that they have a peanut dust allergy.
  • If a reservation has already been created, simply click on the “FLIGHT | HOTEL | CAR” link located on the top of the home page. Then, select “Manage Reservations” from the “Flights” column, input the required information, and select “Continue.” From that page, click on the “Add/Edit” Disability Options link.. Once a Customer has added his/her option(s), the Customer should click “Continue” and the information will be saved to the Customer’s reservation.
  • Customers may also advise Southwest of a peanut dust allergy at the time of booking by telephone or, if a reservation has already been made, by calling 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792) prior to travel.

Instead of wasting time on their website, I decided to call and the agent said she’d made a note on our reservation but urged me to tell the agents at check-in and then again at the gate.

We did as instructed and the agent at check-in at BNA was great. First of all, she told us not to worry because we would be able to pre-board the plane so we could wipe down the seats. And she told us that the flight attendants wouldn’t serve peanuts, which was a huge relief. The agent asked if we had an EpiPen and we said yes. She told us that her child is allergic to bee stings but couldn’t get insurance to pay for an EpiPen because of some lame reason the insurance company made up. I felt like giving her ours but couldn’t.

Worth noting: Southwest gives each person two free checked bags of up to 50lbs. One of our bags was two pounds over and she didn’t make us pull anything out or charge us the $75 excess weight fee.

She handed us our tickets and gave us a card to hand to the flight attendants, which had the information about Jack’s peanut allergy.

The short one-hour-and-23-minute flight was a pleasant experience. The flight attendants didn’t make an announcement that someone was onboard with a peanut allergy, which was fine by us since he’s not allergic to peanut dust and we didn’t want to deprive anyone of their Snickers bar! No one seemed to notice or care that the flight attendants served pretzels instead of peanuts. And come to think of it, the last few times I’ve flown Southwest, they’ve served pretzels, so someone onboard must have had a peanut allergy.

After doing some further research, here’s what I learned Southwest Airlines suggests for passengers flying with peanut dust allergies:

  • Passengers should travel on early morning flights as their aircrafts only undergo a thorough cleaning at the end of the day.
  • Customer with the allergy need to check in at the departure gate one hour prior to departure and speak with the Customer Service Agent.
  • Southwest does not make an announcement advising customers that they cannot or should not consume any peanut products during their flight.
  • Southwest cannot give assurances that remnants of peanuts and/or peanut dust/oil will not remain on the aircraft floor, seats, or tray tables from earlier in the aircraft’s routing.
  • Keep in mind Southwest cannot prevent other customers from bringing peanuts or products containing peanuts onboard. Ahem, Snickers bars…

Bottom line: If you or a loved one has a severe peanut allergy it’s probably best you don’t fly Southwest. However, if it’s mild like Jack’s, and you take the necessary precautions like alerting the airline and wiping down the seats, tray tables, armrests, seatbelts, windows/shades, then you should be okay. But bring a couple of EpiPens just in case. FYI: We bought our EpiPens in Canada as they were half the price ($175) of the cost in the U.S. with insurance.

Other flight observations:

  • The flight attendant put lids on Natalie’s and Jack’s drinks, which no airline has ever done before for us. It’s a simple touch but was very thoughtful. She said she knew what it’s like traveling with little ones and the lid was to help prevent spills.
  • Wi-Fi on board was $8 but they had 16 channels of live TV from DISH for free. Channels included ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX News, ESPN, NFL Network, NBC 4 NYC and Disney. Just open your browser and it should automatically log on to getconnected.southwestwifi.com/live-tv.

What do you think: Should airlines still serve peanuts? Or should they just serve a snack that isn’t likely to cause passengers any harm? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

 

Johnny Jet

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Flying Southwest Airlines With a Peanut Allergy
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About the Author

Johnny Jet

I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

9 Comments on "Flying Southwest Airlines With a Peanut Allergy"

  1. Excuse my ignorance but if your son isn’t allergic to peanut dust and his allergy is mild why the big concern about serving peanuts?
    I’ve always heard about the “Peanut Allergy” issue but have never met anyone with it. Evidently it can be mild or severe?

  2. I’m always disappointed when an airline serves pretzels instead of peanuts as I have a gluten allergy. But I don’t have any adverse reaction to others opening and eating pretzels, so I guess it’s best for me to be disappointed. I usually bring along nuts (other than peanuts) for my snacks.

  3. There have been at least three occasions where I was on a Southwest flight and the announcement was made that there would be no peanuts on the flight due to someone having allergies with peanuts. There was no big deal and pretzels were served. On one of those flights peanuts were not even on the plane and it was made clear to everyone not to open anything that contained peanut products. The person with the Snickers bar was quite frankly an asshole.

  4. Southwest is outstanding. I have flown them since 1999 -back when you were embarrassed to say it. Since then they have doubled and redoubled their efforts to excel. I have personally witnessed and benefited by many actions of SW employees, the kind that just never happen with other carriers.

  5. Johnny, I hear your segment on Leo Leport. No more peanuts on planes!

  6. No more peanuts on planes?

  7. I have severe tree and peanut allergies. I’m so glad you had a good experience with SW. I, too have been treated well with them. I do wish all airlines would stop serving peanuts. I would feel much better flying in such close quarters. I am always worried the passenger sitting next to me will open up the nuts and start munching!

  8. Preventing peanut allergies in babies in the first place is even a better idea!

    Claire McCarthy, MD, wrote the following:

    In 2015, a study showed that giving peanut products to babies could help prevent peanut allergy. This was exciting news, given that 1-2% of children suffer from peanut allergy, an allergy that can not only be life-threatening but last a lifetime, unlike other food allergies that often improve as children get older.

    This is a change for pediatricians and parents, who traditionally have thought that peanut products shouldn’t be given until children are a bit older. It’s also tricky in that babies can choke on peanuts and peanut butter. And to make it even trickier, the study cautioned that some babies at higher risk of peanut allergy might need testing before trying out peanut products. So it is great news that the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with a guideline that gives specific guidance to pediatricians on how to implement the findings of the study.

    The guideline divides babies into three groups:

    babies with severe eczema (persistent or recurrent eczema with a frequent need for prescription creams) and/or egg allergy
    babies with mild to moderate eczema
    babies without eczema or food allergy.
    Testing for peanut allergy is recommended for the first group. Skin prick testing is best, but a blood test can be done also. If the testing shows allergy, the baby should see a specialist to discuss giving peanut products. Most babies can get them, but it needs to be done carefully and in small amounts. The first time should be in a doctor’s office, in case a severe allergic reaction occurs. It’s important to do this testing early, as the recommendation is that these babies should get peanut products between 4 and 6 months, once they have tried some solid foods and shown that they are ready.

    The second group, those with mild to moderate eczema, don’t need to get testing — although parents should talk to their doctors about their particular situation and see if testing might be a good idea. Those babies should get peanut products at around 6 months of age, once (like the babies in the first group) they can handle solid foods.

    As for babies without eczema or food allergy, the guideline says that parents should introduce peanut products “freely” into the diet along with other foods, based on their own family preferences and cultural practices. For these babies, it’s less important that peanut products be in the diet early, although it’s fine if they are.

    Notice that I am saying “peanut products” and not “peanuts.” Whole peanuts, or chunks of peanuts, should never be given to babies because they can choke on them. A spoonful of peanut butter, even creamy peanut butter (never give chunky to babies!) can also be hard for babies to manage. A little bit of peanut butter (just enough to lick off a spoon) is a bit more manageable — and the AAP suggests mixing it into purees. Families can also give snacks or foods made with peanut butter. In the original study, researchers used an Israeli snack called Bamba.

    At the 2- or 4-month checkup, parents should talk to their doctor about what group their baby falls into, and about any other factors — like a family history of peanut or other food allergy — that might be important. That gives them and their doctor time to figure out if testing is needed, and talk about the best plan for preventing food allergy in their baby.

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