Some of the worst stories we hear about pet travel have to do with running into people who have severe pet allergies. The majority of the time, the affected person will leave their seat and find a flight attendant. Worse yet are people who willingly take their frustration out on you, rather than the airline who sold the ticket to you and your pet. In the heat of the moment, your immediate reaction should be to stay calm and to alert a member of the flight crew as soon as possible. Here is what else you might consider to avoid and deal with passengers with pet allergies.
What to Expect from the Airline
In the case of service animals and emotional support animals, the airline may be legally required to accommodate the animal as a necessary part of the passenger’s travel support. Regardless, even regular pet owners will find that if the airline accepted their pet reservation, they will find a way to accommodate the pet. That’s assuming all the relevant rules and guidelines for airline pet travel are followed.
In almost every case, pets are accommodated by reseating passengers with allergies in a different part of the plane. If the airline and flight crew are really on their game, they’ll identify any passenger traveling with a pet on that flight and they’ll double check with other passengers in nearby rows to identify potential problems before they occur. Even so, there’s no way to completely eliminate the risk of a passenger having an allergic reaction, if only because it’s possible that people (and children especially) discover their pet allergy during the flight.
What the Science Says about Pet Allergies
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, about 10 percent of the American population is allergic to pets. Contrary to popular opinion, pet fur is not especially allergic. Rather, it’s the saliva, urine, and especially dried flakes of skin (dander) that cause an allergic reaction. Dander can stay allergic for weeks after it’s been shed. So waving a favorite cat toy in the air may be more problematic than the animal itself.
Cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies. Nevertheless, problems with dog allergies are more common because dog owners are about 3.5 times more likely than cat owners to travel with their pet. Of course, this statistic doesn’t matter to cat owners who buck the idea that it’s only dog owners who love to travel. These people will still find most airlines accommodate their cat, but we do recommend that cat owners be a little more proactive in these situations. Help flag down the flight attendant and be willing to offer to change seats.
Bonus Tips: Carrier Covers
If you want to be extra cautious and considerate, brush and groom your pet before travel. If you’re like us, you’ll give the pet a quick brushing but will be too busy to really do a thorough job. You might also drape a cover over the carrier. This will help keep dander and saliva in the carrier as much as possible, while also helping the pet stay calm from noises and distractions that may set them on edge. This advice applies to dogs, but it goes double for cats. Not only are more people allergic, but cats are more likely to get anxious by being overstimulated.
Again, keep favorite toys and other pet items in the carrier. You might also think about bringing along an antihistamine to offer nearby passengers who have only mild pet allergies. But really, the best bet is to rely on the airline to reseat affected passengers.