The brewing fight for pet-free flights

Allergic to Fluffy? You can re-book—at your expense.

The brewing fight for pet-free flightsWhen Air Canada banned pets from aircraft cabins in 2006, pet owners were furious. But many say the airline’s recent decision to reverse that ban was a bigger mistake, as it puts pets ahead of people—and may even put lives at risk.

As of Canada Day, dogs and cats can travel with their owners on executive or economy Air Canada flights, as long as they’re in pet carriers that fit under the airplane seats. The plan, which was recently announced as part of Air Canada’s “renewed commitment to the customer” initiative, allows pet owners to register their pets 24 hours before the flight, as long as they pay a $50 or $100 fee.

But the Lung Association says the decision will not only make flying dangerous for passengers with asthma or allergies, it’s not even popular with the customers Air Canada is trying to serve. According to a survey released by the association last month, 80 per cent of Canadians want airlines to offer pet-free flights, and 75 per cent expect action from the federal government to change the policy allowing pets.

“We don’t want anyone to be in a situation where they get a severe reaction on the plane,” says Cameron Bishop, a spokesperson for the Lung Association. “There are asthmatics, there are people who have COPD [emphysema and chronic bronchitis], who can have life-threatening reactions if their trigger points are pet hair, urine and dander.” He adds that the Lung Association was not consulted by Air Canada before the ban was reversed, and he now hopes to bring the issue before the federal health committee.

Previously, allergy sufferers had the choice between pet-free Air Canada, and WestJet, which has always allowed pets. But now Air Canada says if allergic customers end up on a flight with pets, they have to re-book 24 hours in advance. There’s no guarantee the next flight will be pet-free either, and the regular fees for re-booking apply.

Bill Swan, co-chair of the National Asthma Patient Alliance, says that isn’t right. “You have to put the rights of human passengers above the animal passengers.”

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