If you have severe allergies to nuts, cats, dogs or other irritants, air travel can be extremely difficult. Snacks provided during the flight may contain food allergens which may cause a reaction if consumed by a passenger seated next to a traveler with allergies. Service animals can also cause allergic reactions in the cabin.
Air Canada’s solution for accommodating passengers with severe allergies is called “buffer zone seating”. The carrier’s accessibility policy provides special seats for travelers that can be reserved prior to departure.
Why are buffer zones necessary and how do they work?
According to a study conducted by the Canadian government, 6.1% of all Canadians have a probable food allergy and 1.2% of the population is probably allergic to peanuts. People with allergies can experience a variety of negative symptoms, sometimes even anaphylactic reactions that can prove life-threatening. The proximity inherent in air travel can increase the risk of exposure to allergens.
After receiving passenger complaints of allergic reactions to peanuts consumed on board Air Canada flights, the Canadian Transportation Agency issued instructions to the airline stating that “buffer zones are the appropriate accommodation for persons on board aircraft who are disabled due to their allergy to peanuts or hazelnuts.” Air Canada has agreed to create a buffer zone for these passengers when at least 48 hours notice is provided.
The buffer zone for Signature Class passengers consists of their seat module. Photo: Air Canada
The buffer zone is a designated seat on board an aircraft in which the passenger or passengers with severe allergies will have minimal exposure to irritants they must avoid. Designated seats depend on aircraft size, type and configuration. For example, on a Boeing 777-300 ER, the buffer zone in the Economy cabin would be the last five rows. In all other cabins, this would be the first row. For travelers who have reserved a seat in the Air Canada Signature cabin, the buffer zone is the suite occupied by the passenger with severe allergies.
Air Canada policy — the details
Passengers requiring accommodations due to severe allergies should contact the Air Canada Medical Assistance counter at least 48 hours prior to travel to obtain medical approval to travel. Travelers can also request to board in advance to clean their seats. To take advantage of this option, people must arrive at the boarding gate at least 30 minutes before the check-in and boarding time.
Passengers must make arrangements with the airline at least 48 hours in advance. Photo: Air Canada
Passengers seated in the buffer area are informed on board by a flight attendant prior to departure that the area is designated for severe allergies. The attendant advises people to refrain from consuming products containing the allergen. The identity of the allergic traveler is not revealed during this briefing.
Notably, Air Canada states on its website that it does not allow children between the ages of 8 and 11 with severe allergies to travel as unaccompanied minors. Young people aged 12-18 with severe allergies should travel with a support person unless they are able to self-medicate for an allergic reaction.
The airline’s website also says it has phased out peanuts from all packaged snacks in all classes of service, and snacks are now labeled with all ingredients.