March 2012 – Three Canadians who filed complaints to the Canadian Transportation Agency about cats on airplanes are not happy with the outcome.
The CTA deemed Sarah Daviau, David Spence and Katherine Covell disabled because of their cat allergies in regards to air travel and had ordered major carriers Air Canada and WestJet to create policies that would remove barriers to travel for people with severe cat allergies.
But rather than ban cats in plane cabins outright, as the complainants requested, the CTA has given the airlines the option to create a five-row separation or buffer zone between the cat and the allergic passenger, as well as having airplanes equipped with specialized air filters.
While not final until approved by the CTA, WestJet’s proposed policy opts for that buffer zone. The airline says a five-row separation between an allergic person and a cat will be guaranteed with a minimum of 48 hours’ notice. In Air Canada’s proposal, a buffer zone will also be offered on most aircraft, which have the required type of air filter.
On Air Canada’s regional flights, where the planes do not have the appropriate filters, booking will be on a first-come, first-served basis for people with cats and those who are allergic to them.
For Covell, it just isn’t enough. “I’m confused by the idea that with the five-row barrier and filters, everything is going to be OK,” she says.
Covell, who is on a number of national and international committees that require air travel, has taken to booking flights a day in advance in hopes that she’ll be able to get on at least one without a cat. “Once I was on a 40-minute flight and they put me in the front of business and the cat in the back of economy, and I was sick for the next week,” she says.
Now that the two main Canadian airlines have submitted proposed policies, the CTA will give final direction that must be implemented. WestJet declined to comment to Allergic Living until a final policy has been approved.
Air Canada declined a request for phone interview, but a representative said in an e-mail: “We looked at how we could best balance the needs of all of our customers, and we believe our policy is prudent as we strictly limit the number of animals on any given flight to two to four, depending on size of aircraft.”
But the complainants contend that’s placing the wants of cat owners ahead of person’s health. “The problem isn’t just on the flight, but once you get off the flight, you continue to feel sick,” says Daviau. “The reliever only works for so long.”
The Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Lung Association had also urged a ban on cats in the cabin, arguing that reactions to the pets could be serious, even life-threatening, at 40,000 feet in the air.
Next: The airlines’ proposed policies