Tyler likes to travel. Cecily doesn’t. But the long-haired cats didn’t have a choice in the matter when their owner, Carol Cassara, took a trip from San Francisco to Miami recently: The felines were flying along.
Cassara, a consultant now based in Tampa, Fla., sought the advice of a veterinarian before boarding. The animal doctor prescribed Valium for the kitties, but warned that there was a chance of an “adverse reaction.”
“On the flight, Cecily got more and more agitated, turning desperately around and around in her carrier, until it was clear that this was the adverse reaction the vet told us about,” Cassara remembers. The cat managed to squeeze out of her cage. “We went up and down the aisles, as passengers watched,” says Cassara. “It was like a tennis match.”
Finally she captured her pet when it wedged itself under a food cart. Cassara was so shaken by the ordeal that she swallowed the Valium that she’d reserved for the cat’s return flight.
Are pets and air travel compatible? About 8 percent of travelers said they’ve taken their animal companions with them on a trip during the last year, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
Still, there’s a fair amount of friction between passengers and pets.
On a British Airways flight from London to Sydney late last year, a hamster broke out of his cage and prowled the cabin. Flight attendant Vitor Campos, who noticed it on the floor, was nipped on the finger when he reached down to retrieve it. The crew eventually cornered the furry runaway.
But by far the strangest case of animal misbehavior happened a few years ago, when Los Angeles socialite Marcelle Becker’s white Maltese dog, Dom Perignon, cut loose on an American Airlines flight from New York to Los Angeles.
Becker contended that crew members kicked her and her 13-year-old pet while trying to return the canine to its kennel. American’s lawyers said the woman “threatened to kill everyone on board.” It all ended with the captain restraining Becker by tying her up with Dom Perignon’s leash. A Santa Monica Superior Court jury rejected Becker’s claims.
Even well-behaved pets can be troublesome. Julie Baker’s flight from Houston to Detroit on Continental, for example, went to the dogs when another passenger brought her mutt into the cabin.
“After take-off, she took her dog out of his carrier, wrapped him in a plaid blanket, and held him on her lap like a baby,” she recalls. “The only problem I had with this is that I’m highly allergic to animals and the lady sitting next to me said she was deathly allergic to dogs.”
Should pets go in the cargo hold? Probably not a good idea. Last summer, five guard dogs being shipped from Atlanta to South Carolina for training died from heat-related stress after thunderstorms kept their Delta Air Lines flight grounded on a steamy Hartsfield runway for more than an hour. The deaths prompted Delta to ban animals from its cargo holds on U.S. passenger flights until the fall.
And late last year, following the escape of a dog from an American Airlines plane at New York’s JFK airport, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued a warning that animals may not be safe in cargo holds of airplanes. Animal advocates claim the compartments expose animals to extreme heat, cold and deprive them of oxygen. They’re pushing for tougher laws on animal transport.
Some travelers believe pets have every right to fly with their owners. Anthony Bresenhan Kaye travels with his dog several times a year and has never had an incident. “Other passengers are usually quite happy to sit next to her when she’s on my lap or near her when she’s under the seat,” he told me. “In many cases, the vast majority of the other passengers never knew that there was a puppy on the plane.”
While I certainly can understand that some pets are well-mannered, it’s also obvious that many others aren’t. The frightened creatures force their way out of their kennels and exacerbate an already unpleasant travel experience for most of us.
Most pets clearly don’t belong in the passenger cabin.