Food allergies are no joke. According to researchers, a food allergy reaction sends someone in the U.S. to the emergency room every three minutes, and each year, 200,000 Americans require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food. A significant portion of these reactions are due to nut allergies -- peanuts and tree nuts such as pecans, walnuts, almonds, and more.

Yesterday, American Airlines announced that it was going to do something to help. Beginning on December 12, the airline will allow passengers who have a nut allergy to board their flights early so they will have the opportunity to wipe down their seats, tray tables, and other surfaces. It's thought that this will help prevent potentially deadly allergic reactions to nuts.

As an American Airlines spokesperson explained to TODAY:

"Customers with nut allergies who would like to board flights early to wipe down surfaces may ask to do so at the gate. Though we do not serve peanuts in flight, we can't guarantee our customers won't be exposed to peanuts or other tree nuts during their trip." 

As you may recall, Southwest Airlines -- famous for serving small bags of peanuts on its flights as a cost-cutting measure -- recently decided to stop the practice, instead substituting bags of pretzels. In addition, Delta Air Lines already allows passengers who have nut allergies to board early to wipe down their seating area.

While the new policy was widely supported on social media, particularly among those concerned about food allergies, some fliers pointed out that the policy could potentially be abused by passengers who don't actually have a nut allergy.

I can remember the days when people were allowed to smoke cigarettes on airplane flights -- filling the cabin (even the nonsmoking section) with smoke. I suspect that as the prevalence of nut allergies continues to increase (it's believed that, between 1997 and 2008, peanut or tree nut allergies more than tripled in U.S. children), every airline will give American's policy a serious look.