Colleen Kaczka is done with pets on planes and their "crybaby" owners. And with good reason.
On a recent JetBlue flight from Newark to Orlando, an "emotional support" dog belonging to a first-class passenger defecated midflight. The stench filled the entire cabin and was almost unbearable to Kaczka and her son, who suffers from asthma.
"Airlines are enabling a bunch of selfish people who have no concern for the people around them," says Kaczka, a teacher from South Plainfield, N.J.
Perhaps. Confrontations between pets and passengers are at their worst now, during the dog days of summer. More pets are flying than ever, yet only half the respondents in a recent survey say animals belong in the passenger cabin of a commercial jet.
But for every complaint like Kaczka's, I get another from a pet owner or disabled person who claims the exact opposite — that travel companies, and in particular, airlines, are not accommodating enough when it comes to their furry friends.
Consider what happened to Christine Killian and her family when they tried to fly from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles with Sam the cat recently. The Killians were relocating to California, and they'd done everything to ensure Sam was airworthy. They'd purchased a carrier, filled out all the necessary paperwork and ensured he hadn't been fed before the trip.
Still, Sam did what animals sometimes do – he went number two just before takeoff. The airline ejected the cat and their entire family from the flight.
"I was mortified," said Killian, a stay-at-home mom.
Eventually, the Killians flew to L.A. without Sam. The cat made the journey alone, using a pet transport, at a cost of $1,179.
These stories raise a bigger question: In the absurd world of air travel, are pets more important than people?
For Killian, the answer was obviously "no." But her travel problems may be a backlash of sorts. It happened on US Airways, a carrier that is particularly sensitive to flying pets. It infamously, and disastrously, allowed an "emotional support" pig on one of its planes last year after promising it would never do so again.
But many air travelers will experience what Kaczka did: an animal that, for whatever reason, will be treated with the deference of an elite-level flier.
There are several reasons for that. Federal regulations are permissive when it comes to "emotional support" animals, and protective of pets' rights. For example, the government sets minimum standards when it comes to an animal's carrier size, while curiously not setting minimum legroom standards for human passengers. Airlines also charge hefty pet transportation fees – sometimes more than the human airfare – and are reluctant to lose the revenue.
Finally, and maybe most important, our values are shifting as a society. Pets are no longer just afforded equal rights as people – in some instances, they’re treated better.
Donna Tinoco, who works for an advertising agency in Orlando, was surprised when she found herself sitting across the aisle from a medium-size dog in the first-class cabin on a transcontinental flight recently. It was not in a carrier and wasn't a service animal.
She says although she loves dogs, there's a double standard. She wasn't allowed to bring anything with nuts on the plane, because some passengers might be allergic to it. Yet Tinoco has a mild allergy to pet dander.
"I was not thrilled to have a dog sitting next to me for six hours," she says.
Privately, airline executives will tell you that their hands are tied on this issue — that they're being pushed in one direction by federal regulations and another by upset passengers. For its part, JetBlue offered Kaczka a $50 voucher for the "inconvenience."
But what airlines won't admit is that the deciding factor in all this is the money. Often, pet owners have more money to spend than parents with asthmatic kids. So guess who gets to have their way?
The solution lies with airline passengers. They have to ask themselves if taking Fido on vacation is important enough to affect the health of another passenger. And if there's a problem on board, they'll need to decide whether moving to a different seat, away from an allergic passenger, or creating a scene that could delay or divert the flight, is worth their while.
Here's hoping they make the the right call.
How to avoid a midair confrontation
• Call your airline. If you have a severe pet allergy, contact your airline. Carriers can make special arrangements to remove allergy-inducing materials from a flight with enough special notice or to let you move to another flight.
• Take precautions. Travelers like Tinoco, who have a mild allergy, should always fly with a supply of Benadryl. If it's more serious, don't take off without a few EpiPens in your carry-on bag.
• Enlist the crew. Flight attendants are trained to handle disagreements between passengers and other people's pets. The sooner you say something, the more options they have. Best case scenario: notifying the staff before your flight leaves. Once the doors close, their options are limited, particularly on a sold-out flight.
Full story here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/advice/2015/07/31/flying-pets/30930717/