Revisiting Planes, Pets and Service Dogs: Steps to Take
Last updated: September 2023
Flying with allergies and asthma can be very challenging. In September, another media frenzy around air travel occurred when a woman with a severe dog allergy was allegedly forcibly removed from a Southwest flight. She had declared on the flight that she has a severe dog allergy and required “an allergy shot”, per the video.1
Flying with asthma and allergies
I am someone who has flown on over a dozen flights while accompanying friends with guide dogs, but also someone with asthma (albeit no animal allergies or severe allergies). I have a bias on both sides of the aisle here. Therefore, I am acknowledging that first, as I am unsure that bias towards both parties makes me neutral.
While this is causing a stir, it seemed a good time to go over what your responsibilities are in relation to flying with asthma and allergies or as a passenger with a disability (be that an allergy, or one requiring a service dog, or something totally different).
Self declare your disability to the airline
As soon as you book your flight, you NEED to self-declare your disability. This includes medical conditions that may impact your ability to do air travel with asthma and allergies. You can self-declare by to the airline by calling their medical assistance desk. It is preferable to call as soon as you book your flight in order to ensure you have a comfortable and safe flight. In some cases you will require medical documentation, so be mindful of that when you call. Most airlines keep a letter on file for a year.
Explain your situation
For example: flying with a severe allergy to a specific substance, or your asthma is triggered severely by specific triggers, or you have a food allergy. Always disclose if you are traveling with a service dog (this sometimes will get you an empty seat beside you, so you and the dog have more room).
Call before flying
Calling ahead means there is less risk of a misunderstanding on travel day. You should be emphatic about your needs, and explore what the airline’s policy is. An example would be if someone with a service dog books onto your flight, and calls the medical desk, what will their policy be to keep you both accommodated while flying with allergies?
In my opinion of the scenario with Southwest, above, the person who had not formally requested accommodation for having a disability should have been put on the next flight by the airline and informed of their need to self-identify their request for accommodation. If both parties had not formally notified the airline of their need for accommodation, the airline cannot be held responsible for either party’s needs not being met — end of story. We don’t know the details here on who may have called and who may not have.
Policies for flying with allergies and asthma
Service dogs are not pets, and they are permitted to fly on any flight, any airline, with a trained handler. However, it’s important to know the airline’s policy on allowing pets to fly in the cabin. You can call ahead with your concerns or, for peace of mind, choose to book on a pet-free airline. Depending on the airline’s policies, pets may not have to be pre-registered to fly. The only stipulation may be that they need to be in an air transport approved, such as a soft-sided carrier.
Be aware of potential allergy accommodations
You should also know how you will be accommodated if you are unable to pursue air travel with asthma and allergies due to a pet or service animal in the cabin. An example could include rebooking you to on next available flight.
Additionally, you and your doctor may discuss steps you can take to stay healthy while flying with animals nearby. Can you wipe down surfaces before you fly? Pre-medicate with your inhaler and an antihistamine? Wear a mask during the flight, and be safe with an animal in the cabin? Only you and your doctor can decide this.
Contact the airline
Give the airline as great notice as possible for accommodating you either with an allergy or flying with a service animal. It's a good idea to have medical documentation ready to send per what their website states. I recently contacted an airline for a mobility-related seat assignment, and they informed me I required a medical note. Thankfully, I could submit one by e-mail.
I was able to contact my doctor and get him to e-mail me a note, which I then forwarded to the airline. Within a shocking 17 minutes, my revised flight booking with seats assigned was in my inbox, so it may not be as long and arduous of a process as you might anticipate! In all cases, contacting the medical assistance department at your airline of choice can provide useful information as well as help you make any accommodations.
Have you flown with asthma and allergies to either pets or food? Did you contact the airline ahead of time? What steps do you take to stay safe while flying with allergies? We would love to hear your story!
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