Are Pets in Cabin Treated Better Than People — Because Airlines Make Big Money on The Fees?

Christopher Elliott writes about a girl flying on Sun Country to and from Los Angeles. in both directions see what seated near a passenger traveling with a dog. The young girl “suffers from pet allergies.”

She apparently didn’t say anything on the outbound flight, and suffered from her allergies. She spoke up to the flight attendant on the return flight, and got assistance in changing seats.

Sounds like a good solution and problem solved, but instead it becomes the basis for a humans versus animals in the sky piece, with passengers being treated badly by airlines. And for the obligatory Animal Farm reference…

Elliott acknowledges this is almost a non-issue, with over 800 million passengers a year the Department of Transportation received 23 complaints about animals on planes last year (no information given about the validity of the claims).

Elliott seems to think that a passenger with an allergy shouldn’t have to change seats, or other passengers ought not be able to bring their pet onboard (perhaps passengers who are moving should be required to drive cross country instead), rather than the passenger with an allergy having to move.

That seems unreasonable to me. The person with the allergy has the reason to solve their own problem. Forcing someone else to accommodate your problem is a recipe for conflict. It seems like internalizing the costs and solution with the single affected passenger minimizes irritation of others while solving the problem. Elliott’s preferred approach would only exacerbate already tense situations.

On the other hand, Elliott surmises that pets trump people because airlines generate fees for pets. This makes little sense — airline policies haven’t substantially changed compared to a decade ago where fees were on average only a third as much for travel with a pet in cabin. (A passenger’s pet counts as a carry on, has to go underneath the seat, but the passenger is required to pay as much as $150 each way for that pet.) On the other hand, the pet’s owner having paid shouldn’t have to move, and if they’re asked to that simply underscores the likelihood of creating conflict.

Airlines limit the number of pets that can travel in a cabin, and those with allergies can find out whether or not any pets have reservations for a given flight. For an allergy severe enough, where changing seats doesn’t seem like a solution, that passenger might consider changing flights or not traveling.

Lots of non-sequiturs in the piece like the pig that flew in US Airways first class fourteen years ago, and animals in restaurants and grocery stores.but in the end even Elliott is forced to admit the simple, elegant, best solution is just to change seats with another passenger. In other words, much ado about nothing.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I, as the passenger traveling with the pet (dog) in-cabin feel like the “2nd class citizen.” While I advise the airline of my dog, pay my fees, and follow all the rules; seems some who have “severe allergies” don’t seem to find it necessary to advise the airline/gate agent of their issues. I documented my most recent encounter (AMS-BOS) on flyertalk :

    LINK :


    I was happily “vindicated” at the end of the thread (which was, of course, was locked, due to the controversial topic)

    “Believe it or not, I was actually directly across the aisle from you in 13G on the flight from Amsterdam to Boston on Saturday. The situation was exactly as you described it. I don’t know if the guy sitting in the window seat in row 11 actually has a severe allergy to dogs as claimed, but I commend you for the way that you handled the entire situation, giving up your economy comfort seat to move to the back of the plane at your own suggestion.

    Things where definitely a little hectic when the male flight attendant approached you seconds before takeoff and hurriedly moved you further back in the cabin. In fact, the pursur scolded the male flight attendant for moving you so close to takeoff.”

  2. also, the other irritation, is that dogs are not allow in international BusinessElite on Delta. I hate to bring up another controversial topic; but if babies and toddlers are allowed, I’m not really sure why dogs are restricted from premium cabins. The vast majority of dogs, are better behaved than children and babies. Though, there are some children that are also better behaved than adults; so it does cut both ways.

  3. As I recall, there is not an area underneath the seat in front of you to store a pet in the business elite cabin on Delta.

  4. That rule was implemented long before the entire Delta wide-body international fleet went 1-2-1. It’s also the same rule on KLM. Air France allows pets in cabin in business and La Première. I think the “seat reason” is revisionist, with regard to the rule implementation. But, I can’t necessarily argue with it. (though, Air France will be 1-2-1 life flat on the long-haul 777 fleet by next year).

  5. baccarat guy: just playing devil’s advocate here, but why should I tell the airline or gate agent that I am allergic to dogs, since I almost never encounter them on an airplane. When I do, I inform the flight attendant.

  6. @Taha; an international flight (or any flight) allows for an airline to book 3-4 in-cabin pets (not including service animals, of course). I need to pre-register my dog (to not exceed this limit). I need to pay a 200€ fee, after checking in. Everyone who flies, is aware, that animals are allowed in-cabin (service or otherwise). If I have a SEVERE allergy; wouldn’t it make sense to just casually ask the gate agent (prior to boarding, at the departure gate) if there are any animals flying in-cabin? I stay in the AMS KLM crown- lounge till the last minute. I board last. Why would I want to have to “stuff” my dog under a seat for longer than necessary? Asking or telling a flight attendant is akin to asking the flight attendant if you can upgrade to first class. All requests, which involve special needs and seating should be handed with the gate agent prior to flying. Other needs (such as pets, special meals, wheelchairs, oxygen) are booked in advance. Since when, do we wait to tell a flight attendant of our special needs? IMO, that is a rather risky approach.

  7. For a service animal, the Air carrier Access Act and ADA , as interpreted by your government, specifically give the right to the person with the disability regardless whether another person has allergies. There’s no good solution here.

    As to pets, I’d say it’s a different story. I don’t know the legalities, but it seems moving the pet to an area under an accommodating passenger’s seat away from the allergic person is the best thing. After all, the traveler can visit the caged pet as often as desired during the flight. That’s assuming the passenger with the animal doesn’t want to move.

    The unspoken issue here is the number of people claiming pets are service animals. It’s also very easy to get a psych to write a note for you, even though one isn’t required. The airline is only permitted to ask two very specific questions to determine if the animal is a service animal.

  8. @traderprofit, I do agree that service animals are the far bigger problem. Mostly because they are NOT subject to any “rules,” or fees. While I have no issue with “real” service animals, the “emotional support” animals have gotten out of control.

    With regard to your comment : “the traveler can visit the caged pet as often as desired during the flight” — is unrealistic; and obviously you have never traveled with an in-cabin dog (no disrespect meant there). Most animals are very scared when flying due to the strange surroundings, people and pet carrier (or as you refer to it “cage”). An animal not sitting near his or her pet (dog) would surely upset the vast majority of pets. The result, would often be barking, or worse.

  9. As a person who is both allergic to cats and travels with her cat (mine is a hairless variety – am not allergic to her), I can see both sides of the situation. I HAVE to travel with my cat in the main cabin (not checked) because she could develop hypothermia, or other life-threatening medical issues could arise if checked. If a person close by is “allergic” to my pet, I’m more than happy to move if the flight attendant is willing to help (and usually they aren’t).

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