Can cats and allergy sufferers fly together?

Here’s a question to ponder: If you’re an airline, how do you simultaneously accommodate passengers who wish to fly with their cats while also ensuring that people who are allergic to the animal don’t suffer?

A tabby cat stretching(Domestic cat, Felis sil...

Oh, just cancel my flight. No way the plane has this much leg room (image via Wikipedia).

It’s a question Air Canada, Jazz and WestJet have been mulling over since late last year. In December, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruled that the airlines had to modify their policy on allowing cats in aircraft cabins. (The policy counted a cat in his crate as one piece of carry-on baggage.)

The decision came about after three passengers who suffer from severe cat allergies issued a complaint. The CTA ruled that the airlines must do one of two things:

  • ban cats from being on the same flights as passengers with severe cat allergies (“severe” in this case meaning respiratory problems, not just sneezing and a running nose); OR
  • upgrade all of their planes’ air filters AND ensure a five-row buffer zone between travelling cats and passengers with allergies.

And the solution doesn’t appear to be as simple as people just leaving the family feline behind while the rest of the gang flies to Maui for a sunny holiday. For some people cats act as “emotional support animals” – basically, they’re not only a pet, but also a service animal. As such, the animal is permitted on the flight as long as the passenger can provide a note from a certified mental-health professional.

Having had time to consider their options, Air Canada finds its hands tied. As reported in The Calgary Herald:

“Air Canada says that with the exception of its Dash-8 fleet, it is ‘prepared to implement the accommodation suggested by the agency’ – namely, to upgrade the air quality and to create a cat-free buffer zone of five rows between a person with a disability as a result of their cat allergy and cats carried as pets in the cabin.

With its Dash-8 fleet, Air Canada said cats who are deemed as pets would not be carried when there is a passenger ‘with a demonstrated allergy to cats that amounts to a disability.’

But a ban on a cat classified as an emotional support animal on Dash-8 flights could put the airline ‘in breach of other legislative requirements.’”

So, indeed, what’s an airline to do? Let Fluffy fly, but be prepared to revoke his boarding pass for some Dash-8 flights (and if he does fly risk the possible – but probably unlikely – scenario of the cat breaking free from his crate and commandeering the cockpit). Or keep Fluffy grounded and risk breaking the law.

Do you travel with your pet? And what do you think of this situation: Should the rights of the passenger with allergies come before the rights of the passenger who requires the presence of their pet to travel in comfort?

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