SIA can just serve nuts when passengers request it

Are peanuts really the thing you cherish most about the SQ experience?

By Jeanette Tan | July 21, 2017

By now, most of you should have heard about the incident regarding three-year-old Marcus Haley, who went into severe anaphylactic shock after inhaling peanut dust from the Singapore Airlines cabin he was in, one hour into a flight from Singapore to Melbourne.

And it’s clear that many of you also think it is ridiculous for SIA to now have to consider and “review” their policy of serving nuts on-board.

Why should SIA pander to just one kid and his overprotective parents?

How dare they attack our beloved national carrier that can do no wrong?

We will not allow this one incident to trigger a ban on my beloved peanuts! My favourite snack in the whole wide world!

We even have people who think they are taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, intelligently identifying this issue as a matter of balancing the needs of one (or a small group of severely-allergic-to-peanuts people) against that of the masses.

Naturally, therefore, the needs of the majority to eat peanuts on board a flight should prevail, right?


Wrong. And I’ll tell you why, even though I am not allergic to peanuts or have any relationship with the Haleys, nor do I have any personal reason to side with them.

1. The ability to eat peanuts on a plane is not a “need”.

Here are two situations where the needs of one vs. the needs of many apply:

  • The lack of many sources of halal-certified food in Japan, for one, because the need of the Japanese resident Muslim community to consume only halal-certified meals fails to outweigh the dietary and cultural requirements of non-Muslims who live in and travel to Japan.
  • The fact that a teacher in a mainstream school class of, say, 40 children, cannot alter his or her pace of teaching just because one student can’t keep up, because he or she needs to finish teaching the rest of the class a fixed curriculum.

As you can see, in both circumstances, both opposing parties in each scenario (Muslims living in Japan vs other people living in Japan, and 39 children vs one child whose learning pace is slower) have specific, real needs.

In the scenario we are looking at right now, many claim the needs of Marcus Haley for a nut-free environment should not outweigh that of the majority of other passengers on the plane.

But have you thought about what that need is? To eat peanuts?

I hardly think anyone would reasonably contend that eating peanuts on board a plane is a need.

Let’s then turn to the needs of the young Haley. He needs even the air around him to be nut-free, which may to an ordinary, non-peanut-allergic person sound rather preposterous; nigh impossible.

But look what happened — he went into anaphylactic shock simply from the action of a whole bunch of people opening packets of peanuts at the same time.

And for those of you who don’t know what anaphylaxis is, it’s a life-and-death situation for a person who suffers a severe allergic reaction to something. (You can also read this piece by former journalist Grace Chua to understand what it’s like.) If Haley’s parents did not have their epi-pen shots at the ready, things would almost certainly have taken a way more tragic turn.

I think we can safely conclude from this that there is a real need on Haley’s part for the airline to avoid serving peanuts with its in-flight meals.

2. Not serving nuts with in-flight meals ≠ banning nuts from flights completely

And by the way, a lot of the uproar that has ensued from this case making it to the news stems from a notion that maybe nuts will be permanently and completely banned from Singapore Airlines planes after SIA’s review.

Singapore Airlines has already said previously that it cannot guarantee a completely peanut-free cabin, because it cannot prevent passengers from bringing their own food onto the plane, which could certainly consist of peanuts or even be peanuts.

This is fair, we suppose, since banning nuts completely from the aircraft, while not a first for an airline — we know that Qantas and Air New Zealand, for instance, have done so previously — might seem far-fetched for, well, those who enjoy eating peanuts during flights. To put it mildly.

But why not simply take the step of not serving peanuts as part of in-flight meals, but still permitting passengers to request peanuts separately if they so desired?

It was, after all, the action of multiple passengers all around Haley opening peanut packets all at the same time that triggered his reaction. One or two passengers in isolated spots around the cabin, and probably at different points of the flight, would be unlikely to affect him to the extent of what happened in that incident.


3. The Singapore Sling

The picture at the top of this piece is significant to prove the point I’m making here: it’s taken from a website called AirlineReporter, run by a team of passionate aviation enthusiasts who write articles about the industry and their experiences taking various airlines.

The article this image is from is by one Jacob Pfleger, dated July 12, 2016. Here’s the text he wrote to accompany the picture:

“After departure, the service commenced. First there was a drink run followed by lunch about one hour into the flight. Given that this was my first flight with SQ in over eight years, I decided to try the signature Singapore Sling cocktail. It was very tasty, despite being made from pre-mix, but hey I was in economy class after all (the premium cabins get it mixed fresh).”

It’s clear that his focus was on the Singapore Sling cocktail in this instance — one that he goes as far as to attach the descriptor “signature” to, because of how much he enjoyed it.

Despite the fact that there are two packets of peanuts in the picture as well, which take up more real estate, and are arguably more prominently displayed than the drink, the text Pfleger wrote was about the cocktail.

In fact, the presence of the peanuts was so unimportant to him that he didn’t even mention them at all — in the next paragraph, he commented on the in-flight meals he had.

If we’re talking about the Singapore Sling, or, say, an in-flight meal particular to Singapore Airlines like Hainanese Chicken Rice, for example, taking those off SIA’s in-flight menus might be a potentially difficult decision to make.

But for something as insignificant and run-of-the-mill as peanuts to be omitted as a served-to-everyone snack, it’s a small and arguably equally insignificant change that can quite easily be made. Heck, SIA could even swap out to soy nuts, if nut lovers would be that affected by the lack of nuts served by the airline.

There exist a multitude of alternatives to peanuts, which can be chosen simply to save the lives of a few fellow human beings.

Who may or may not realise that they are that severely allergic to nuts, to the point where the mere inhalation of peanut dust can induce anaphylactic shock.

And that’s what the “balance of need” should really be: Do the needs of non-nut-allergic passengers to eat nuts on board a flight (when they could easily eat peanuts before or after the journey, at any point) outweigh the risk of people who are severely allergic to peanuts losing their lives to anaphylaxis on board, because of that need?

Is there anyone sufficiently selfish and heartless to say yes?


Here are totally unrelated but equally interesting articles:

17 acronyms you need to know before turning 25 to get ahead in life

4 real life versions of comic book superpowers you used to read about in your childhood

Related articles:

SIA reviewing serving of nuts on flight after child’s allergic reaction

Child had severe peanut allergic reaction on SIA flight when too many people opened bags of peanuts

Top photo via

About Jeanette Tan

Jeanette takes pride in her ability to sing the complete lyrics to Hakuna Matata and a host of other Disney songs. She holds out hope to someday be talent-spotted to do voice-overs for documentaries, lifts and automated telephone answering systems.

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