Today’s New York Times includes an article about flying with pets (“Pets Onboard: Growls and Purrs“) that does a pretty good job of summarizing the arguments and feelings on both sides of the debate about whether pets should travel in-cabin on airplanes.
You know where I stand, of course, given the number of posts on this site about flying with a small dog. I believe that the only problem with in-cabin pets worth discussing is the troubles in-cabin pets may cause allergy sufferers (complaints about noise and smells I dismiss out of hand, after many flights near babies, snoring or yakking adults, really heinous packed meals, or the toilets). As someone with a severe nut allergy, I hear you. It’s small comfort, I know, to read the FAA’s reply to the question “How can I be sure that there is no pet dander on my flight?”: “You will still be exposed to pet dander on every flight, even without any pets in the passenger cabin. This is because most allergens are carried into the cabin on the clothes of other passengers.”
But the FAA’s other suggestions on the topic are sensible: Be proactive about your health. Be aware that there may be pets on your flight, get a prescription from your doctor and bring your medicine with you. When you get to the airport, ask an agent whether there are pets on the flight. If there are, make sure you are not seated next to one before you get on the plane, to make sure that you and anyone you’re flying with will be seated together (and to avoid encounters like the one described in the article, where the dog owner refused to move and forced a family to travel apart).
Dog owners, for their part, need to be extra-sensitive to the concerns and feelings of those around them. It’s unforgivable that the owner in the article refused to move, and it’s unforgivable for someone to sneak a dog onboard (also described in the article). The fees for in-cabin pets are exorbitant, I’m well aware, but the airline has to know your dog is onboard to answer other passengers’ health-related inquiries accurately. Other passengers have to know that your dog is onboard so they can medicate themselves, if necessary, and get re-seated. And your dog really must remain completely in her carrier during the entire flight, no matter how sympathetic your seatmates are — it’s the rule, and it keeps dander under control.
Service animals must travel in-cabin with their owners, and not in a carrier, since they are crucial to their owners’ well-being and ability to function. For the rest of us, traveling with an in-cabin pet is a privilege (though one we pay dearly for), and mustn’t be taken for granted.