As progressive as the airline industry has been about nut allergies, it is surprising that it is so behind the times when it comes to respecting passengers with pet allergies. It is a given that service dogs have long been allowed on planes (and trains and hotels), but the incidence of clearly sighted people with small—often ill-behaved—dogs on planes is clearly on the rise. RELATED: Should Airlines Offer Kid-Free Flights?
Golden retrievers walk in the aisles, Pomeranians defecate in the galley and some pet owners even take their dogs to use the regular bathrooms. That can’t be good, yet most are classified as emotional support animals. Most airlines have weight restrictions of 20 to 25 pounds for dogs to fly in the cabin … which are not respected. Honestly, your 70-pound lab probably doesn’t want to be stuffed under your seat for that 11-hour trip to Paris, no matter how much he will miss you if you leave him with a sitter.
Airline personnel hate the growing number of emotional support animals they are seeing on flights—which have included pigs and peacocks—as well. Off the record, they have told me that these dogs bark, poop and generally run riot making a big mess that airline staff then need to clean up. Their owners rarely discipline them despite other passengers’ allergies and fear of dogs.
Passengers have even been bitten in flight and others have passed out in the aisles for unknown reasons on pet-packed flights I have been one, traveling approximately 150,000 miles a year for my job as a journalist covering food and wine. Passengers have been quick to make epi pens available to airline staff to revive ill passengers but are rarely taken up on the offer. A five-year-old developed hives from a nearby dog when on a plane with his family in 2016 as the dog owner would not move. The passengers applauded when the boy and his family deplaned.
As someone for whom dog hair can cause anaphylactic shock—meaning my throat closes—I have had to constantly navigate a minefield of anxiety animals on planes for the past decades. The airlines are of little help—which is odd as they hate the extra effort of dealing with dogs—as they often can’t see in advance when dogs are booked on the plane, have to accommodate emotional support animals until the last minute and they offer you few solutions to rebook your flight or change your seat.
As a result, I call the airlines multiple times to ask about pets; check in early and often change flights—and arrive hours and days late–to avoid emotional support animals. These are all things I don’t think should fall on the shoulders of the allergic passenger, be that allergy to nuts or dogs.
Is it not time that the airlines try to limit the amount of emotional support dogs on planes and work with those who are allergic to them? Severe allergies pose as much of a physical danger to the human body—if not more—as emotional stress. Isn’t it time for airlines to create a handful of pet-free flights on well-traveled routes and start respecting the concerns of passengers with pet allergies?
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