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Travel With Allergies

Air Canada Unveils Allergy Policy

Published: Dec. 2, 2010

Air Canada unveiled its first formal food allergy policy on December 2. As reported in Allergic Living magazine, it provides for passengers with peanut or nut allergies to request a small buffer zone to lessen the risk of allergen exposure.

Flight attendants will ask other passengers sitting in the buffer zone to avoid eating nut or peanut products and passengers seated in this zone won’t be offered any snacks from the food cart that contain nut products.

For economy class, a buffer zone will include the row of seats the allergic person is sitting in, as well as the row in front and behind. It does not include those sitting across the aisle. In business class, the buffer zone be simply the bank of seats the person is sitting in.

It’s important to note that arrangements for a buffer zone on an Air Canada flight must be made in advance. The airline’s policy requires those who wish this accommodation to:

• Get a “Fitness for Travel” medical form completed by a physician to confirm the nut or peanut allergy.
• Book at least 48 hours in advance with Air Canada Reservations, advising the agent that you have a “Fitness for Travel” form ready to fax in.

(The airline’s new policy says it “will also make a reasonable effort to accommodate” if a buffer zone request is made in under 48 hours, but Allergic Living strongly recommends making the request farther in advance.)

In a recent conference call with two senior Air Canada representatives, the airline made it clear that the implementation of buffer zones and a formal policy is in response to directives from the Canadian Transportation Agency.

In an October decision on how to accommodate nut- and peanut-allergic passengers, the CTA asked the airline to either agree to the buffer zone concept or “submit a proposal for a reasonable alternative that is equally responsive to the needs of persons disabled by their allergy to peanuts or nuts”.

Air Canada opted for the buffer zone. But in its new policy, which can be read in its entirety here, Air Canada makes clear that on international flights, even within a 3-row buffer zone, it can’t be certain that meals served are nut- or peanut-free, which is something to be aware of.

Air Canada lawyer Louise-Hélène Sénécal spelled out in a letter to the CTA that while it was possible to identify and not sell pre-packaged and labeled snacks containing nuts in the buffer zone, that wasn’t the case for meals on international flights, nor for meals in executive class on all flights.

“The largest worldwide flight caterers, namely Gate Gourmet and LSG Skychef have confirmed that no such guarantee can be made since their own assembly lines as well as those of their main suppliers (e.g. for the casseroles) also source peanut and nut content,” she wrote.

Next page: Will It Fly?

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.