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Old April 12th, 2003, 09:59 PM
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Why are pets on planes if others are allergic?

It seems as if more and more passengers are bringing pets with them on airplanes. Why is this allowed? What about other passengers who may be allergic to cats and dogs? What is the airline policy on carry-on animals?

Every airline has its own policy regarding animals in the passenger cabin.

Many pet owners want to take their pets along when they travel instead of leaving them behind. Because the airplane cabin is safer than the cargo area, pet owners bring them into the cabin. Typically, it is a small cat or dog and it is confined to a carrier that fits under the seat in front of the owner. Animals transported that way are considered a carry-on by many airlines. Dogs (not cats) usually need a certificate of health.

But some passengers on the plane may be allergic to animals. Ten percent of the population is allergic to cats, dogs or both, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Twice as many are allergic to cats as to dogs. For reasons unknown, that number is increasing, according to experts.

Allergic reactions vary in severity. For some it's merely a matter of sniffles, itchy eyes or a rash. But for others, exposure, especially in a small, enclosed place such as an airplane cabin, can trigger a life-threatening asthma attack. Obviously, these people don't want animals in the cabin.

In an effort to please both customers, many airlines compromise by allowing pets in the cabin but restricting their number to four or fewer per flight.

In addition, airlines usually allow allergic passengers to change seats. But that may not be an effective measure, allergy experts say. Proximity is not the only factor. Most people react to the dander -- skin and saliva particles shed by animals. Cat dander, in particular, is very small and becomes airborne easily. The plane's circulation system can circulate the dander throughout the plane. Some aircraft, however, are equipped with highly effective filters (HEPA) that capture most dander.

If you are allergic to cats, dogs (or birds, reptiles, rats, hamsters because some airlines allow them in the cabin, too), there are steps you can take to protect yourself:

Ask the reservation agent if any carry-on pets will be on your flight. (Pet owners must inform the airlines.)

Ask your doctor what you can do to protect yourself. Be sure you bring medications, such as inhalers, with you on the plane. Don't leave them in your checked luggage. In some cases, you may need to take oral medication before boarding.
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