Forget Snakes on a Plane – Pets on a Plane are Nightmare Enough

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I’m pretty sure I qualify for Seasoned Traveler status – maybe not the frequent flier miles that some business travelers rack up, but I’ve rarely gone longer than six weeks in the past two years with a flight somewhere. As a frequent traveler, I’ve come to appreciate the challenges that flight crews face and try my best to be respectful of the rules when flying so that I don’t add to their hassles or to those of other travelers. I’ve watched one passenger hauled off of a flight – literally; he was dragged off after refusing to leave on his own. I’ve witnessed abusive, rude passengers who were treated with far more dignity and respect by the flight crew than was merited, and I have seen my share of in-flight emergencies and dramas where passengers and crew swiftly and selflessly came to the aid of someone needing assistance.

So when I was asked to move seats from a third-row, upgraded seat on my flight home last night from New York City so that a mother and son could sit together, I got up and moved – despite my new seat being in the front row that would require my carry-on to be stored due to no under-seat storage. As a mother, I knew I would want someone else to do the same for me, so I moved without complaint.

What I didn’t realize is that I’d been re-seated next to a couple with a pet in transit.

To be clear, I am a pet owner, and I love our dog, so this isn’t about not liking dogs or even being allergic to pets  – although I think both are completely reasonable objections that should be considered valid by the airline industry. If we can be asked to not eat peanuts on a flight when someone aboard has an allergy, why is it ok to allow pet dander to float about the cabin – and suggest that the person with the allergy be reseated or rebooked – or carry a life-saving epi-pen instead of requiring the owner with the pet to re-book?

But, as I said, my complaint isn’t about either of those things. And this isn’t about service dogs, whose owners are usually quite careful to prevent their pets from socializing with others while the animal is working. Besides, the ADA Act  specifically allows service animals on board, so it really isn’t even a question.

CMgCgNvUAAAhdWr.jpg-largeWhat finally provoked me into writing this piece is my frustration with the airline staff who allowed passengers to sit next to me in the front row with their pet in complete violation of their own company’s policy – which clearly states that passengers with pets cannot be seated in rows without storage under the seat. Not only were these passengers seated in the front row, they were allowed to keep their pet carrier on their lap during takeoff and, once the seatbelt signs were turned off, they were allowed to store large duffle bags in the walkway blocking my exit from my own row. And this doesn’t even begin to cover my annoyance that these passengers were not required to keep their beloved pooch in its carrier during the flight. Instead of addressing any of these issues, the attendants happily chatted about how darling the dog was and how wonderful it was to have a pet.

No, I didn’t complain, so this isn’t about flight attendants who blatantly disregarded the complaints of a passenger. I honestly wasn’t sure what the rules were regarding pets on planes, so I tolerated it. But after a little research today, I have learned what the flight attendants should have already known – that the furry passenger who shared his dog breath with me for three long hours should have never been in that row at all.

I do realize I am tilting at windmills here, as there is no way the airline industry is going to give up the very lucrative fees charged to transport pets. And it does explain why peanuts will be kept off a flight (no money lost) but pet dander will not. Most airlines state they are happy to re-book any passenger who complains about boarding a flight with a pet on it, but, seriously, who among us can afford another day stuck in a hotel somewhere or for our schedule to be further disrupted just to board a different flight which is still not guaranteed to be pet-free? I certainly don’t have a solution, but I do know that I shouldn’t have been trapped next the furry traveling companion who made last night’s flight one I won’t soon forget.

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