American Airlines to allow nut allergy sufferers early boarding

Passengers with peanut and tree-nut allergies will soon have the option to board American Airlines flights early to wipe down seating areas of potential allergens.

The new policy goes into effect December 12 as flight-service manuals are updated.

"American Airlines customers with nut allergies who would like to board our flights early to wipe down surfaces may ask to do so at the gate," said American Airlines spokeswoman Michelle Mohr. The policy was first reported by Bloomberg.

Passengers are free to wipe down their seating areas of potential allergens at any time, but the new policy gives extra consideration to concerned allergy sufferers.

"I certainly understand the deep, deep concern people have, especially parents with young children," Mohr said. Mohr herself suffers from a severe nut allergy and carries an EpiPen.

The airline encourages passengers to take all necessary medical precautions before flying, she said.

American Airlines hasn't served peanuts in years, but it does serve a combination of warm mixed nuts to First and Business class passengers on trans-oceanic flights, Mohr said. That mixture does not contain peanuts.

But the airline cannot guarantee that customers won't be exposed to peanuts or tree nuts on any flight as passengers may bring their own snacks aboard or transfer nut residue from other places.

The new policy was included in a filing with the U.S. Transportation Department on November 6. It comes in response to a complaint filed last year by Food Allergy Research & Education and the mother of a child with a dangerous peanut allergy, Bloomberg reported.

Mohr dismissed any notion that passengers who do not suffer from allergies might take advantage of the policy.

"We do not expect rampant abuse of this policy. We do not believe our customers will fake a potentially life-threatening allergy just to board the plane a little bit faster," she said.

Southwest Airlines stopped serving peanuts on all flights this summer.

When notified of a passenger allergy, Delta Air Lines will not serve peanuts or related products on specific flights. The airline also offers passengers the option to pre-board to clean seating areas of potential allergens.