On the Go Traveling With Pets

Pets on a Plane: Where Should They Ride?

When we asked Washington Post readers where pets should ride during a flight, the responses were passionate and strongly in favor of one option: in the cabin, where their owners can see them. Citing horror stories about lost pets, traumatized pets and unhelpful airline staff, most of the nearly 100 readers did not view the cargo area as suitable space for anything that breathes.

"Cabin is safest because it is climate-controlled and they're within your sight," said Arden Moore, animal behavior specialist and author. While Moore has had some pleasant experiences flying her 60-pound dog in the cargo area, she believes having pets in cabin can better ensure their well-being. "Some with shorter snouts have special respiratory situations and are advised not to travel in the cargo area," said Tom James, president of the Pet Travel Center and also a supporter of pets flying in cabin.

But there were some readers, especially those with pet allergies, who were just as adamant about keeping pets restricted to the cargo area for the sake of their health. Spending hours on a plane coughing and wheezing because of pet dander was far from ideal for them, and keeping pets in the cargo area could alleviate this problem.

Here are some of your best responses for keeping pets in cabin, in cargo and everywhere in between.
As a pilot for a major airline, I think that most pets should ride in the baggage compartment. This, I feel, is in the best interest of safety for all the occupants on the aircraft.

I personally do not want animals loose in the cabin of my airplane. Some passengers have a psychological need to have their animals close to them.

This is all well and good, until that animal gets away from its owner and creates a problem for the cabin crew and other passengers who are trying to catch it. Some of those normally well-behaved animals have very sharp teeth and they may use them when they get cornered or upset.

Airplane cabins are designed for people. Baggage compartments, while not specifically designed for animals, are at least safe, pressurized and reasonably warm.

Personally, I never would want to subject a creature like a dog or cat to all the noise around an aircraft. If it's loud to us, imagine how loud it must be to them.
- Ed Zumstein, Dunkirk, MD
Size discrimination is something that is and has been ever-present in airline travel. It is not just humans that are affected by this type of prejudice, but also pets and, of course, their owners. Until we can move past restrictions based on size, I believe that it is only fair that ALL pets should be required to ride in the cargo area of the plane.

It is the discrimination to size and breed that infuriates me when it comes to situations such as these. I own a dog and absolutely adore her. She is a 4-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier. Yes, a pit bull. Now, despite the unavoidable shock and protest that I would get to bringing her on a flight period, her behavior and personality certainly make her an acceptable cabin mate for children, staff, and adults.

Why is it assumed that just because a person can fit a dog in their purse that they are accepted in attendance that, in more instances than not, dogs are not present? In my experience it is the pompous owners with dogs that have matching sweaters, diamond studded collars, and gourmet food that cause more of a disturbance and issue to other cabin mates. The fact of the matter is that people on planes have allergies, fears, and just do not want to have to deal with an animal. Solely based on the convenience of being tucked under a seat does not eliminate dander, disturbance, and other potential problems with an animal being on board.

I do wholeheartedly wish that there were better accommodations for pets in the cargo area of planes as I have heard horror stories about how they are treated, however I again disagree with the size discrimination that prevents my four legged friend from boarding with me.
- Karin McLaughlin, Falls Church, VA
Absolutely NOT! I know that there is a trend for pet owners, particularly ones without children, to anthropomorphize their pets. The bottom line, however, is that pets are ANIMALS. Planes are for people.

It makes no difference that a pet owner thinks of their pet as a person and treats their pet as a person, dresses their pet as a person, feeds their pet as a person and even expects everyone else on the planet to afford their pet the same respect they would a person. Pets are not people.

Certainly pets should be treated with respect and dignity. The airline industry has been doing that for decades. A pet owner may respond "how would you like to be shoved in a small cage and put in a cold, dark baggage compartment for hours?" My response is that I wouldn't. . .but I'm a person, not an animal.

I wouldn't like to be put on a leash, I wouldn't like to have a saddle put on my back and ridden, I wouldn't want to have to poop outside or in a small box. . .but again, I'm a person not an animal. I know reason means nothing to these people. No matter what anyone says they will demand that their pets be treated like people. Fortunately a majority of my fellow homo sapiens agree with me and that pets should be kept in their proper place and context.
- Patrick Lewis, Location Unknown
Yes, pets should be permitted in the cabin with their companions. It is not absolutely safe for the animals to travel in the cargo hold. Many things have gone wrong in the past: extreme temperatures, noise, chewing their way out and even being lost. I was a flight attendant for 23 years, and I loved having the animals in the cabin.
- Maureen Watkins, Location Unknown
In these times of economic downturn, the pet industry is one of the few who are doing well. Thus, the airlines might be well advised to remove one or two rows of seats to make room for pet crates, so that owners can visit their pets in flight and possibly take them out in flight.

Since you can accommodate more pets than people in this area, this might actually turn out to be a profitable venture at little cost to the airlines. Hotels, motels and B&Bs are realizing that there is a financial benefit to providing accommodations for pets.

I believe that more people would take their dogs on airlines if the dogs did not have to travel in the hold. Having dogs travel in the hold is both stressful for the dogs as well as for the owners (worrying if the dog made it on the plane, through the transfer, is emotionally and physically doing fine, etc.). Having dogs travel in the cabin even if a pet area is cordoned off from general seating might cause some passengers anxieties.

However, I speculate that many more passengers will be entertained by visiting the pet area (or looking over the partition) and it most likely will be a welcome distraction for small children. Furthermore the airlines could stipulate that only dogs with a minimum of a Canine Good Citizen certificate may be taken out of their crates for a walk through the plane and/or around the pet area. Eliminations should not be a problem, since most adult dogs can easily hold it for eight hours (longer than most domestic flights).

(n.b. a good canine citizen award would provide a modicum of assurance that the dog is well behaved and the owner is aware of his/her responsibilities to the general public)
- Elisabeth Kim, Location Unknown
If a pet can fit comfortably in a regular carryon bag, there is nothing wrong with having the pet on the plane. These pets are usually lap dogs/cats. "In Airport 1975," one character had a Yorkie on the seat next to her. The passenger and the pet were both comfortable.

Now, a ferret or iguana or bird is another matter altogether. So is the question of fleas and ticks.

While larger pets are drugged and placed in cargo, my opinion is simple: shame on the owner. Shame. The pet owner should find a sitter or travel in a car with their larger pet. Otherwise, they should stay home and care for their pet. Pets are not luggage to be carted around.

If the owner had a child, they would not be allowed to drug the child, place them in a cart and put them in cargo. There is no reason to do the same for larger dogs or cats.
- Jude Bourque, Baton Rouge, LA
Pets that meet the guideline of being able to fit in a carrier under the seat, like a brief case, should be allowed to ride there. Having the owner near can be a calming influence on the pet. There is no concern of the pet being misrouted like a piece of luggage if carried on. Losing or delaying a piece of luggage is inconvenient. Losing or misrouting a pet will cause extreme stress to the owner.

Pets are being treated more and more like family members and should be accorded this recognition. Currently, my pet counts as a carry-on bag AND is charged an exorbitant fee of up to $150 each way, often more than my ticket, to ride along. Most people are allergic to the dander from cats and dogs. Confined to their carrier under the seat, not much dander is going to get into the cabin. If that is perceived as a problem, I want airlines to stop allowing people to wear cologne. My cat under the seat is much less disturbing then the many howling children and infants.
- Joe Pitt, Chesapeake Beach, MD
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PRODUCED BY: Delece Smith-Barrow - washingtonpost.com; EDITOR: Amy Adkins - washingtonpost.com