Singapore Airlines (SIA) is reviewing the serving of nuts on board its flights following an incident last week where a toddler had an allergic reaction to peanuts that other passengers were eating.
Three-year-old Marcus Daley was served a nut-free meal on board Flight SQ217 from Singapore to Melbourne on July 12.
But after passengers opened packets of peanuts that had been served to them, the boy “started vomiting, his eyes were starting to swell and he couldn’t speak properly”, his Australian father, Mr Chris Daley, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday. His wife, Madam Hong Daley, also Australian, was on the flight too.
An SIA spokesman said: “Currently, customers with nut allergies can request for a nut-free meal at the point of booking or at least 48 hours before their flight. Following the incident, we are reviewing the serving of nuts on board our flights.”
According to the family, Marcus had anaphylaxis. This is a severe allergic reaction that can be caused by certain foods, medication or insect bites and stings.
After crew members were alerted to the boy’s allergic reaction, they immediately removed all packets of peanuts from the area around the family, said the airline spokesman.
The serving of peanuts was also suspended in the cabin for the remainder of the flight, he added.
The boy recovered after his parents gave him anti-allergy medication they had brought on the flight. The airline spokesman said it is in contact with the family.
Doctors said cases involving a severe reaction after mild exposure to peanuts were rare.
Dr K.V. Ratnam, an expert in allergies, said the child might be extremely sensitive to peanuts.
“The child might be severely allergic to have anaphylaxis after just breathing in allergens from peanut vapour,” said Dr Ratnam, who runs a private practice at Ratnam’s Allergy and Skin Centre.
He added that anaphylaxis is the “worst possible scenario” that could happen to someone with an allergy, as it is fatal if not treated within three to four minutes.
“They will die as they would be unable to breathe and their blood pressure will drop,” said Dr Ratnam.
It is estimated that about one in 200 people here has a peanut allergy. Those exposed to an Asian diet and environment are less susceptible to such a reaction, compared with those living in the West. However, most peanut allergies do not lead to anaphylaxis.
“Usually, the reaction is less severe, such as itchiness, rashes or nasal stuffiness,” said general practitioner Yik Keng Yeong, 61.
Dr Yik added that he has not encountered any local patient with such a severe reaction to peanuts in his 37 years of practice.
Dr Soh Jian Yi, 35, a consultant at the division of paediatric allergy, immunology and rheumatology at National University Hospital, said: “Other than eating, breathing in the airborne peanut particles can also cause anaphylaxis, though this occurs less commonly compared to ingesting the peanut allergen. Touching the allergen is the least likely to induce a severe reaction.”
An all-out peanut ban on flights is not the norm for airlines worldwide. But several major carriers have gone one step further by offering nut-free flights, including Qantas and Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand does not use peanuts, peanut products or derivatives of peanuts in its meals, but said on its website that it “cannot guarantee there are no trace elements of peanuts”.
The incident went viral online, with netizens on The Straits Times’ Facebook split over if SIA should stop serving peanuts on board its flights.
A version of this article appeared in The Straits Times.
(Photos: 123RF.com, ABC News; graphic: The Straits Times)