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Peanuts and pets at altitude

Submitted by on Friday, 29 May 2009 2 Comments

Want to kick off a cat fight? Confine hundreds of people in a cramped, narrow tube 30,000 feet above the ground and put them in proximity to something they can’t stand.

In the case of Southwest Airlines, a cat and a dog fight erupted when the carrier decided to join other major airlines and allow non-service pets in the cabin. For a $75 fee, which Southwest expects to generate “a modest annual benefit in the tens of millions of dollars.”

The fur’s flying now – or, at least it will be after pets start flying in July – and people allergic to cats and dogs are howling. With good reason. While anaphylaxis to airborne allergens is rare, just the sneezing and watery eyes pet dander can cause is bad enough. Add asthma to the mix and the health risk increases.

Folks with allergies aren’t the only ones upset, though. The anti-allergy set also is out in full force on a Southwest corporate blog, practically expecting allergy sufferers to apologize for needing to breathe.

One commenter applauded Southwest’s move because fewer people with allergies flying “will leave so much more room for people who enjoy (sic) travelling, are active, exciting, interesting and do not need to live in an allergen-free bubble.”

Well, that’s just unnecessarily rude, condescending and arrogant. But what do I know? We’re an inactive, boring family with allergies. We don’t expect a bubble, but we would like a reasonable amount of help.

I honestly don’t get why the whole peanuts on planes thing is such a big deal for people who aren’t allergic. Is the snack somehow a reminder of a bygone era, when airlines served real meals with real utensils? Do peanuts make people momentarily forget they’re now forced to show up two hours before a flight to wait around to be crammed into a giant sardine can?

Please don’t remind me that no airline can guarantee a peanut-free flight because none can control what passengers bring on board. I get that. Just as I understand that putting a fence between my kids and my neighbor’s vicious dog does nothing to guarantee that the dog won’t come barreling over. But it does decrease the chances that he will.

Neighbor’s dog aside, I love pets. I had a dog for many years after I was diagnosed as allergic because I’d had her for five years and had developed at least some level of immunity due to the constant exposure. Today, though, I can enter the some homes of people with indoor pets and within minutes look like someone maced me. It doesn’t happen every time, though, and depends in part on how much time the pet spends indoors and how clean it’s kept. I could take my chances for a short flight if I had to.

I don’t feel the need, though, to vilify all pets as foul-smelling, flea-infested and noisy, as some blog commenters did. Back when I had a dog, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to insist that if someone’s kids had the right to fly, so should my dog because my dog was better-behaved.

There’s plenty of hyperbole on both sides. Much of it has little to do with pets versus kids versus peanuts. Most of it is due to irritation simmering barely below the surface these days in many of us.

We can’t kick the dog – or the kids – so we take it out on faceless folks on the Internet. Ahh!!! I feel much better now that I’ve proclaimed my superiority to those allergic schmucks or to people whose attachment to pets indicates an emotional problem.

It’s too bad that much of the time the need to bash gets in the way of real dialogue on things more important than whether an airline lets Fluffy and Fido fly in the cabin.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • ParentingPink said:

    I am one of those “non allergy” people BUT I DO NOT agree with the stance they’ve taken to be “thankful” less allergic individuals will be flying. My husband has chronic allergies, and having pets of any sort in the cabin would make traveling much more difficult for him. Boo for Southwest Airlines!

  • Debra said:

    Yeah, that comment was one of the extreme examples of the lengths people on both sides were going to to defend their positions. They couldn’t rely on facts alone – they had to start insulting each other. I don’t get why that happens. OK, well I do get why it happens but adults should be able to rise above it. Maybe I just have an allergy to playground taunts. I’ll see if my doctor can test me for it.

    And I agree – anyone with chronic allergies will suffer from pets in an airplane cabin. It’s one thing for me to put up with it, because I’m usually traveling for leisure. I feel sorry for folks who are flying for business and arrive all bleary-eyed and red-nosed.