Donna Wiegel was flying Baltimore – Chicago last month. She has “a lot of respiratory problems and asthma” and avoids being near cats. She spotted one at the boarding gate. And though she asked the gate agent to seat her as far away from the cat as possible, once on board she discovered she was only a ‘few rows away’ (presumably there were a limited number of empty seats on the flight).
Copyright: photodeti / 123RF Stock Photo
Crew told her that she was welcome to trade seats with another passenger. That was on her.
She didn’t want to move. She wanted the airline to “move the cat.” But that’s not how this works.
Apparently she “found a new seat” but says she was “confronted by three crew members, who booted her from the flight.”
“I was definitely thrown off the plane. I had no option. I was perp-walked down the aisle,” Wiegel told the news station, noting the crew busted the handle of her suitcase when they pulled it from the overhead bin.
She says she was hyperventilating, “[a]lmost a full-blown panic attack.” Crew were concerned that allowing her to fly would mean an onboard medical issue.
United covered her transportation to Washington Dulles and put her on another Chicago flight. But she’s bitter that it wasn’t the cat (and the cat’s owner) that weren’t delayed.
“The cat got to Chicago in plenty of time,” she told NBC. “He could have gone out for dinner!”
I don’t know whether this woman’s fear of a medical issue was up against another passenger’s emotional disability, or against a passenger who had paid for their pet to travel in cabin with them. Pets are generally allowed on planes in the U.S. so those who want to avoid them carry that burden or cost. A fear of pets, or allergies to pets, doesn’t impose costs on the person traveling with the pet.
In this case I think the United gate agent should have been more accommodating. I’ve been on plenty of flights where gate agents call up passengers to try to accommodate others that wanted to sit together (usually I’m being offered a bulkhead window seat in exchange for my aisle, natch). They could have asked for volunteers willing to trade a less desirable seat that was far from the cat for this woman’s seat.
However once on board, if the woman had remained calm — rather than panicked and indignant — while trading seats, she could have been seated far from the cat which is what she was asking for from the start, and what she felt would solve the issue.
She was ultimately moved to another flight, an inconvenience for sure, because of how she handled the situation.
Here’s 9 tips for dealing with onboard allergens:
- Identify whether there’s a real allergy threat. Different animals entail different (or no) allergies. For instance, I have terrible allergies. To most everything. Which is why I have a yorkshire terrier as my dog, their hair is much closer to human hair, they just don’t cause allergies in many people at all. in fact, my yorkie has allergies but pretty much no one would be allergic to him. The first thing is to understand what the issue is (or isn’t).
He’d rather be on the couch at home than under an airplane seat
- Plan in advance. Pets in cabin – other than emotional support animals – require a reservation and payment of a pet in cabin fee. Since only a limited number of pets are permitted, most passengers will make this reservation in advance and you should be able to determine if nearby seats have pets reserved (although finding an agent to help you with this will be a trick, hang up and call back, escalate as-needed). Since some pet reservations might not be set up until check-in, ask again an hour from departure so that you’re dealing with the issue prior to boarding (most people with pets will check in on the early side since they’ll need to do so in person to pay the pet fee).
- Ask for re-seating On a full flight, during boarding, an airline isn’t likely to be able to accommodate a seat re-assignment, so this is only likely to be possible on flights that aren’t full.
- Switch to a different flight. If you find that there’s a pet next to you as a surprise, despite best efforts to determine it in advance and switch seats, the airline may not be able to move you. They’ll often be able to switch you to a different flight to accommodate the issue. That’s an inconvenience to you, sure, but it’s away to travel without the allergy most likely as it’s very rare that you’ll be seated near the source of an allergy on consecutive flights. most flights don’t have any pets onboard at all.
- Trade seats with another passenger. Your best bet for changing seats though is almost always going to be trading with another passenger rather than getting the airline to help you switch when the plane is full. And if you’re someone who has a reasonable likelihood of needing to change seats, the best thing to do is have reserved a desirable seat. An aisle seat is going to be very tradeable for a middle seat!
At the DFW D Terminal Pet Relief Area
- Fly early in the day. Even if your flight doesn’t have any pets on board there may have been one directly underneath your seat on the previous flight. The later in the day you travel, the more flights the plane will have undertaken that day. Instead, fly in the morning — when the plane is more likely to have been cleaned recently but also when more time has passed since a pet may have been on board.
- Vacation internationally and choose your airline carefully. You won’t be able to ensure that there are no animals onboard because an airline policy against pets isn’t going to trump service animals. But airlines based in countries that don’t allow importation of animals, or with severe quarantine restrictions, aren’t likely to have even service animals because owners are less likely to deal with the administrative burdens involved. US carriers don’t generally allow pets (but do allow service animals) on European flights. Choose British Airways or Virgin Atlantic over Air France and Lufthansa which are welcoming of pets.
- Prepare to combat allergies. There are plenty of other allergies you may confront during travel, like peanut allergies and other food allergies. Indeed your destination may be a source of allergies (high levels of pollen or other allergens). Know your allergens, have any medications handy (don’t check them), pack your own food as-needed. Book a hypo-allergenic room at your destination.
- Weigh the risk and own the solution. You will face allergens if your sensitivity is severe enough, if only because the person sitting next to you may be a pet owner and have dander on their clothes. So you make the best preparations you can to avoid as many allergens as possible, prepare to mitigate any symptoms that develop, and if you find yourself in a situation that’s especially bad be prepared to remove yourself from it and re-route. Ultimately they’re your allergies and you’re going to have to take responsibility for weighing the symptoms against the inconvenience.