Agents should be in the know about clients' potential animal-related allergies prior to booking flights. // © 2015 Humane Society of the United States
Feature image (above): Pet policy varies among airlines. // © 2015 Delta Air Lines
Airlines allow pets to travel in aircraft cabins with their owners under certain circumstances. But what might that mean for travelers who would rather not have a furry seatmate? Or what about those folks with animal-related allergies who would like to avoid an uncomfortable flight or worse, a potentially dangerous health situation?
Recently, actress Andie MacDowell caused a social media ruckus when she tweeted that she was “bumped” from first class by American Airlines because of her dog. Due to having a bulkhead seat, her pup’s carrier could not be stowed beneath the seat in front of her. Apparently, she had the option of keeping her first class seat by checking her pet or moving with her dog to economy seating. We know that she chose the latter from the subsequent Twitter hoopla, but what hasn’t been discussed is whether other passengers were asked if they wanted to sit near her pet.
“There does not seem to be any notification [to nonpet owners] before flying,” said Meredith Wallace of Minnie Memories Travel in Bedford, New York.
Additionally, there is no way to state that a passenger is allergic to cats and dogs when making reservations online.
According to one American Airlines pilot, unless a passenger inquires beforehand, he or she won't find out that another passenger has a pet until both passengers are seated. At that point, the options are either to switch seats with another passenger or deplane if an alternate seat can’t be found. Since passengers traveling with pets must notify airlines when booking, he recommends that passengers with animal-related unease also inform the airline so that conflicts can be resolved prior to boarding.
Airlines are certainly concerned about passengers who suffer from allergies. In 2012, Delta Air Lines adopted a policy for peanut allergies. When notified that an allergic passenger is onboard, Delta will refrain from serving any peanut products. Unfortunately for those with animal-related alergies, unless an animal is growling or biting other passengers, it’s probably staying onboard. Since pets generate revenue for airlines from fees, it is unlikely that a pet will be removed from a flight only because another passenger complains. In addition, the Department of Transportation requires service animals to be allowed on flights, so airlines have no wiggle room there at all.
Airlines can accommodate concerns by seating passengers with animals away from passengers who are uncomfortable with animals, but allergy sufferers should also take responsibility for their own health and comfort. Calling the airline before flying to notify them about an allergy won’t guarantee a pet-free flight, but it might help ensure that the allergy sufferer won’t be seated close to an animal. Of course, recommending that clients carry allergy medication while traveling is always a good idea, too.
Rules for Flying With a Pet
Pet policy varies among airlines. When flying with American Airlines, passengers can bring one pet kennel as their carry-on if they pay the $125 carry-on pet charge. The pet must be at least eight weeks old, and it must remain in its kennel under the seat in front of its owner for the entire flight. Since a limited number of kennels is allowed per flight (not including service animals), passengers with pets must contact reservations in advance.
American Airlines’ passengers can also travel with up to two checked pets at $200 per kennel. The airline accepts checked pets on a first-come, first-served basis, so passengers should contact reservation agents at least 48 hours prior to travel and complete a checklist with a desk agent. Clients must also provide a health certificate issued by a vet within 10 days of travel, 60 days of return travel on the same ticket and 10 days of return travel on a separate ticket.
Pets can travel in the cabin on Delta flights for $125 if the pet is at least 10 weeks old; is small enough to fit in a kennel under the seat directly in front of the owner; and remains inside the kennel during boarding, deplaning and while onboard the aircraft.
Effective as of this March, Delta will only accept animals as checked baggage if they are pets for members of the U.S. military and their dependents with active transfer orders; or service and emotional support animals that comply with federal regulations, including proper documentation. Animals not meeting these criteria will only be accepted as freight through Delta Cargo.
Just as agents inquire about seating preferences, asking about allergies might be a good practice to help clients sidestep any potential pet-related problems when traveling. Similarly, advising clients with pets about airline policies can ensure that they (and their furry family members) can avoid travel complications as well.