Pets On A Plane: Is This Seat Taken?

Dander is up as pets battle allergies for a spot on the plane

By Jennifer Grant

Whose rights are right?

Bernadette Dean, a Nunavut woman with a severe cat allergy, was checking onto a flight from Winnipeg to home when she noted two cat carriers about to board.  When she described her severe reaction to cats (swelling of the face and difficulty breathing), Dean was advised that she should rebook her flight.  As she was unable to afford another night at the hotel, Dean dosed up on allergy medication and finished check in. She, and the cats, all made it home alive.

It is exactly this sort of scenario that has passenger dander up:  Do pets have the same rights as humans when traveling?

It’s all about perspective.

Well, that depends on how you look at it.  And by “how you look at it,” I mean how skilled you are in applying unbiased perspective to your life experiences.

Since the enactment of the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, service animals and emotional support animals (ESA) have been given free, non-crated access to the cabin in order to assist the human they are supposed to be, well, assisting.  In addition, you can book your pet into the cabin, within a carrier, provided they are under 10kg/22lb. And while numbers vary, most airlines allow 2 to 4 pet bookings per flight (so reserve early).  Even though your pet will not be taking up an actual seat, there is an additional cost of approximately $100 each way.

Would you be happy to see this on your flight?

Now, let’s test your skills of unbiased perspective:  Who booked the ticket? Why are they booking ticket? Whom are they traveling with? If you answered, in order: human, none of my business, their pet – then congratulations! You’ve scored 100% on the skill of applying unbiased perspective to your life experiences. I have yet to meet a cat or dog that does not rely on their human agent to do travel bookings.  So, in summary, a human with a pet is being accommodated. The human has rights to travel with their pet.

And what about these people with severe allergies then? This is a serious concern and can sometimes lead to life-threatening asthma attacks; it can’t be pushed aside. Fortunately, there is a simple solution. People with severe allergies call ahead to reserve their seat and while doing so, tell the airline representative about their severe allergy. The airline will be able to tell that person if there are any animals already booked to fly. If there are PRIOR bookings, then the person with the allergy has the option to rebook instead of sniffling and hacking his or her way through the hours spent wrapped inside a magical, metal, flying tube. Which is, let’s face it, the privilege you are accessing … FLYING to your destination instead of steam boating it for two months.  It’s all about perspective, you see.

First come, first served.

Here’s the best part of this booking thing. After calling around to several airlines, I learned that if the person with the severe allergy makes the reservation FIRST, then pets would not be booked into the cabin of that flight. So, again, it is human rights that are being accommodated. There is a certain egalitarian beauty in this principle of First Come – First Served.


But, but, but, why do pets have to travel in the cabin anyway? Shouldn’t they be down in the cargo hold and we could just avoid all of this? Well, the short answer is a hard no. In fact, if you read the restrictions for pets traveling in cargo drawn up by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it will all become clear. We’ll just examine two of these: no snub-nosed animals and if travelling in the winter or summer, your pet has to be (evidence-based paperwork) properly acclimated to SURVIVE the temperature extremes.  Both of these stipulations are in place because the cargo hold is not properly ventilated nor temperature controlled.  And animals die because of it. Die.

I dream of a society that dispenses with the “me-first” mantra, where everyone is grateful for the privileges they can access and compassionate toward their fellow humans.  Sigh. I know. Right? OK. How about: You don’t even have to especially like cats or dogs; you just have to understand how much I love mine.