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Toddler's Nut Allergy Scare on Airplane Sparks Heated Debate

Photograph by Twenty20

Parents of a toddler on a Singapore Airlines flight are angry that their son suffered an allergic reaction after passengers were served peanuts.

Chris and Hong Daley, along with their 3-year-old Marcus, were traveling from Singapore to Melbourne in July. Marcus, who suffers from anaphylaxis, was served a nut-free meal. But the parents told the Australian Broadcast Corporation that they did not expect the airline to serve other passengers nuts as snacks. Less than an hour into their seven-hour flight home, hundreds of the nut packets were opened at the same time, and Marcus suffered a severe allergic reaction minutes after.

"He started vomiting, his eyes were starting to swell and he couldn't speak properly," said the dad, who is a doctor specializing in respiratory issues.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anaphylaxis is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that may cause death. In people with food allergies, the immune system mistakenly responds to food as if it were harmful and can cause the body to go into shock. This can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure.

About four out of every 100 children have a food allergy, with children under 5 at higher rates when compared to children ages 5 to 17.

Luckily, the parents brought four pens of adrenaline and other anti-allergy medication with them, so the situation was quickly under control.

A Singapore Airlines spokesman told The Straits Times that as soon as the flight crew was made aware of the situation, they immediately removed all packets of peanuts around the family's area. The crew also suspended the service of peanuts in the economy class cabin for the remainder of the flight.

On their website, the airline says that although they try to accommodate nut-free meals, they are unable to provide a nut-free cabin or guarantee an allergy-free environment on board.

"It’s not unusual for other passengers on our flights to be served meals and snacks containing nuts or their derivatives. We also have no control over passengers consuming their own snacks or meals on board, which may contain nuts or their derivatives. We request that you take every necessary precaution, bearing in mind the risk of exposure," the site reads.

The Daleys, however, don't feel they were taken seriously and worry that someone else in a similar incident in the future may not be so lucky. They've lodged a formal complaint with the airline.

"We have just been brushed off and we just want to make people aware that this can happen on a plane," Hong said. "All they have to do is just stop serving peanuts."

Singapore Airlines said that following the incident, they are reviewing the serving of nuts on board.

Whether or not airlines should ban peanuts has been a divisive topic in the last few years. In January, the New York Times reported on the challenges to travelers with nut allergies, including several incidents of families being kicked off the plane or being reluctant to bring up allergies for fear of being kicked off the plane.

The Daleys' incident reignited the debate.

"As someone who suffers from peanut allergy myself, and as a doctor, I don't understand why you would knowingly put your passengers at risk," Marni Rosenberg Levin wrote on Singapore Airline's Facebook page. "How can you prioritize someone's right to eat peanuts over the risk of a passenger dying from a fatal allergy on board a flight?"

"You know, I would be happy to go without nuts for my flight if it meant protecting someone, a child or an adult, from having a life-threatening reaction. I don't know how I would live with myself if someone had a reaction and died as a result of something I did that was easy enough for me to have an alternative but that's just me," said Ann-Maree Paynter.

Supporters call for the ban of nuts on planes, saying it's a matter of public safety and that it's worth going without nuts for a few hours. But others are criticizing the parents for being entitled, fussy and irresponsible.

"They know the severity of their son's allergy and should have simply ensured he took the meds prior to the snacks being served," wrote Facebook user Melissa Chua.

"If you kid is that bad, DON'T put him in a sealed container with nuts. Take a train, boat or be better prepared yourself. Why should 300+ people not have a snack because of you ? Want a nut-free flight ... pay for everyone else's nut-free snacks!!!" wrote Carteret Corfe.

"Shouldn't their child have been given a mask to wear since he is so allergic? What if somebody brought peanuts along in their bag and opened it in the airplane?" wrote Ali Fadli Mohd.

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