Southwest Airlines ends peanuts on flights, citing allergy concerns, after years of resistance

Last Updated Jul 10, 2018 3:56 PM EDT

Southwest Airlines is ending its long-standing practice of serving small bags of free peanuts on its flights in deference to people allergic to the snack.

"Peanuts forever will be part of Southwest's history and DNA. However, to ensure the best on-board experience for everyone, especially for customers with peanut-related allergies, we've made the difficult decision to discontinue serving peanuts on all flights beginning August 1," Southwest emailed.

Millions of Americans, or approximately 4 percent of the population, have a food allergy, with peanuts among the more common, and some for years have called on Southwest to remove peanuts from its flights. 

Free pretzels will still be offered, and other snacks such as cookies and chips will be available on longer flights, the carrier said.

Southwest said in its statement that customers with peanut and peanut-dust allergies could still board flights early to wipe down seats and tray tables. "Customers should still indicate their allergy when booking," the airline advised.

On social media, Southwest used humor to break the news to its peanut-loving customers: "We will miss the peanuts as well…They've worked for us for 47 years and have decided to retire. We're still trying to figure out what peanuts do in retirement though..."

Southwest's decision was welcomed by Lauren Allbright, whose 11-year-old son is allergic to peanuts. "I'm thrilled," Allbright told CBS News, saying the move will allow her family to fly with one less worry. 

The branded packets of peanuts have been part of Southwest since the Dallas-based carrier's inception, with the airline frequently referring to its ticket prices as "peanuts" and an employee blog headed "Nuts About Southwest." Indeed, Southwest made headlines in 2000 when it reportedly directed its vendor to place three less nuts in each bag to save $300,000 a year. 

Following Tuesday's announcement, Southwest competitor Delta Air Lines weighed in with a reminder that it continues to offer peanuts as a free option to flyers -- and that passengers with an allergy should let Delta know in advance of their flight so the peanuts may be removed from the plane.