Getting the Nuts Off Planes

I was watching the cable news at the gym, with the volume down, and up flashed a headline about a lack of nut-free flights stranding a 13-year old girl in Honolulu.

Unlike most airline passengers, this girl can't be around nuts. She not only cringes. She has severe reactions to them. If you put her on a plane with nuts, she could die.

Alaska Airlines somehow managed to fly the Seattle teenager to Hawaii without nuts, but it was having trouble returning her home.

"We cannot guarantee a nut-free flight," a spokesman for the airline said. But the carrier appeared to be doing its best to accommodate her nut-free needs, particularly after a Hawaiian television station started reporting her story.

I, for one, was not even aware that one could request a nut-free flight. Nuts, after all, are a recurring theme in commercial aviation.

Take for instance, Marcus Covington, a Chicago man who allegedly got drunk on the red-eye JetBlue flight from New York to Los Angeles on Aug. 19.

He started mumbling things to passengers that made no sense, and he groped a pregnant woman as she waited for the lavatory, according to a federal criminal indictment.

Bummer for him there was an FBI agent on the plane. The flight was diverted to Denver, where he was arrested while spitting, kicking and threatening to kill the arresting officers, according to court documents. I bet he woke up with a hangover, too.

Mr. Covington is but one example of how the Transportation Security Administration is too focused on water bottles, while nuts routinely slip right through its scanners.

The fact is, if you are going to fly, you are going to be crammed into an air-tight, aluminum can, like almost any other commodity, with at least some nuts.

The Internet is buzzing with examples. The website chronicles "the crazy skies." Recent headlines include: "Troubled Twins & Cranky Ass Clown," "Angry Passenger Attacks Seatmate." And "Businessmen Barf On Passenger's Belongings." (Yes, businessmen, as in two of them. They reportedly had seven beers each.)

A post titled "Observations From An Airline Staffer" succinctly tells three tales of in-flight nuttiness:

"A customer wanted to avoid the pet fee, so they tranquilized their cat, wrapped it in bubble wrap and put it in a suitcase/carry-on. The flight was delayed and the cat woke up screeching and clawing. Busted.

"A female customer brought aboard the flight a Chihuahua dog. During the flight the crew attendant noticed that the customer had taken the dog out to nurse it. I'm not kidding.

"A customer's flight was cancelled due to weather. The next flight out was not until the next day. The customer demanded to be compensated for a hooker because he was being deprived of his wife for the night."

Sometimes the nuts on planes are celebrities, like Whitney Houston getting into it with a Delta Airlines flight crew for suggesting that she buckle her seat belt. Or Alec Baldwin getting kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to stop playing "Words With Friends."

Other times, the nuts on planes are the people in charge of them.

Last March, a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight taxiing out of Dallas began screaming over the intercom statements, including "I'm not responsible if this plane crashes." She then made sounds that passengers described as "demonic." The disruption forced the plane back to the gate where the woman was taken to a hospital.

It was not funny, like the time in 2010 when a JetBlue flight attendant named Steven Slater went on a profane tirade over the intercom, popped an inflatable emergency chute and jumped with two beers in his hands. He is an icon of airline nuttiness. Today, he has nearly 180,000 "likes" on his Facebook fan page.

Clearly, something about airplanes makes people nuts. It is not just the dehumanizing security checks, the sneaky add-on fees, the inexplicable cancelations and delays, or the culture of rudeness engendered by people who are in way too much of a hurry. I'm thinking it's something they put in the pressurized-cabin air.

Also this year, a JetBlue flight captain ran down the aisle ranting about 9/11, bombs and terrorism. The plane was traveling from New York to Las Vegas, but made an emergency landing in Amarillo, Texas. JetBlue said he had suffered from a medical condition. Luckily, passengers wrestled him to the floor, and another pilot who happened to be traveling onboard was able to help land the plane.

British tabloid, The Sun, captured the story beautifully with the headline, "Ladies and Gents...This is your captain freaking." And passengers have recently sued the airline claiming it was grossly negligent in putting this man in charge of a plane.

These days, though, it is unrealistic to ask any airline to guarantee a nut-free flight. If you don't want to be around nuts, don't fly on commercial airlines. The teenager stranded in Honolulu had this to say to a Hawaii TV reporter: "I was kind of happy not to be on the plane because I didn't want to go and have a reaction."

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at or