Viral TikTok Reveals What Happens When Someone On Your Plane Has A Severe Food Allergy

A viral TikTok video shows songwriter Elsie Bay on a flight listening to an announcement from the flight crew stating that a passenger on board has a serious allergy to nuts, and requesting that passengers not eat any while onboard. Bay's expression became panicked and she clamped her mouth shut — because just before boarding, she had eaten a candy bar that contained peanuts. While Bay's reaction charmed viewers, who appreciated how concerned she was about the health of her fellow passengers, she probably didn't need to worry. 



I shut my mouth so hard the next hour. #nobodyonthisplane #peanuts #allergy #plane #airplane #prank #elsiebay #peanut #allergies #disaster #planecrash

♬ Frolic (Theme from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" TV Show) – Luciano Michelini

According to allergist and immunologist Dr. Martin Smith in an interview with Newsweek, "There is very minimal risk to the peanut allergic passenger. Another passenger eating a Snickers bar, or even a peanut butter sandwich, poses no significant risk to the other passenger." However, airplane guidelines about protecting passengers with serious allergies are still vague, and often left up to the discretion of individual members of the flight crew, who may or may not have accurate knowledge about allergy safety.


While a Snickers bar onboard the same flight as somebody with allergies may be unlikely to do any damage, considering it has been estimated that 500-1000 people die from anaphylaxis every year in the United States alone (via Arch Intern Med) it is important to consider what currently does — and what should — happen when someone on a plane has a severe food allergy.

How big is the risk of allergic reaction on a flight?

If you have a severe food allergy, you can't necessarily count on other passengers to be as conscientious as in the viral TikTok video. As terrifying as the possibility of having a dangerous allergic reaction on board can be, experts say that the risk is generally very low. In an interview with The Points Guy, director of the Food Challenge and Research Unit of Children's Hospital Colorado, Dr. Matthew Greenhawt stated: "One of the more common misperceptions we deal with is this concern that peanut dust will somehow aerosolize... if you have a peanut allergy, you absolutely can fly and do it safely."


In general, while doctors agree that a passenger in a different row eating peanuts before boarding, like happened in the TikTok, is unlikely to cause a serious allergic reaction during the flight, the question remains: What should airlines do about the risk of life-threatening allergies? As described by a bulletin from the Federal Aviation Administration, there are no official rules about what an airline has to do when someone on your plane has a severe allergy. Even if an airline agrees not to serve snacks that contain allergens (which they may refuse to do, as happened on a Delta Airlines flight in 2023) passengers can bring their own food through TSA and onto the plane, and it may contain nuts.


Traveling with a severe food allergy

It's unknown exactly how often passengers experience allergic reactions onboard. While the risk appears to be low, if a passenger does experience potentially deadly anaphylaxis, unfortunately the airline crew may not be equipped to help. In a 2023 report from NBC, one passenger reported having a life-threatening allergic reaction. There was no epinephrine injection available on board. "We were still 30 minutes away from landing and my family was having to sit there and helplessly watch as I struggled to breathe," the traveler said. "I accepted that I was probably going to die."


Because of this, the most important thing you can do to keep yourself safe is to pack your own epinephrine autoinjector in your carry-on luggage. You should research not only the airline's official policy on allergies but their in-flight meal selections and choose the best one for you. Make sure to check out the special meal options, too — with the added bonus that you might get your in-flight meal quicker — and reach out with any other special requests so that the staff is prepared before you arrive. Some airlines will even allow you to board the flight early to give your seat an extra cleaning, just in case.