As more allergic passengers face off with pet owners on flights, learning how to minimize symptoms is critical to a decent flight.
Passenger Anila Daulatzai was dragged off a Southwest flight last month after mentioning she was allergic to the two dogs onboard.
Donna Wiegel, a traveler with a severe cat allergy, was “perp walked” off a United flight after being seated a few rows away from a kitty last April.
More people are flying with their pets.
A recent survey found that 53 percent of travelers take their pets on the road — or in the skies — with them.
Emotional support animal or not, people flying with pets seem to win out over travelers who complain about pet allergies.
Even if a passenger isn’t booted from a flight for complaining, allergies to dogs and cats can make a long trip uncomfortable or miserable. As many as 30 percent of Americans have pet allergies.
Allergists know that a cat is much more allergy-inducing than a dog.
People are approximately twice as likely to be allergic to Fluffy than Fido. Cats also trigger more severe allergic symptoms than dogs, according to Dr. Janna Tuck, an allergist and spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI).
Someone with mild allergies might get an itchy or running nose, congestion, itchy eyes, or swollen eyelids.
People with severe symptoms could break out in hives if they touch a dog or cat.
The woman kicked off the Southwest flight allegedly said she had a “life-threatening” allergy to dogs. Many skeptical commenters questioned whether that’s actually possible.
The answer: Yes, pet allergies can be pretty terrifying and, in the worst-case scenario, cause death.
“A lot of people have allergies to pets, but for some people it’s a trigger for asthma,” Sanaz Eftekhari, a spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), noted.
That can lead to coughing, wheezing, or even an asthma attack.
“Some people who don’t have any asthma or allergies, or don’t know someone who does, don’t understand that dogs and cats actually can be a life-threatening allergy,” Eftekhari told Healthline.
Avoiding these symptoms when sharing a space with an animal is nearly impossible.
“Pet dander can trigger it,” Eftekhari said.
Nearly 45 percent of households include a dog and 35 percent own a cat, according to a recent survey from the American Pet Products Association.
“There is going to be some sort of pet dander on every flight. Even if a pet isn’t on the flight, people bring it on their clothes and hair,” she said.
With allergens living all over the seats and passengers, many people are in for an unbearable flight.
“The last place someone wants to have a medical emergency is in the air,” Eftekhari pointed out.
Passengers kicked off of flights tend to receive mixed reactions. Some commenters are understanding, but some are skeptical that pet allergies are really that bad.
“It’s very difficult for people to understand how miserable allergies can be,” Tuck said. “It can be very scary and uncomfortable, especially for people who suffer from asthma.”
When someone starts to feel their throat constrict and is struggling to getting air into their lungs, they could even have an anxiety attack.
“All of us needs to breathe, so when you can’t, it’s horrible — especially at 40,000 feet, when you only have your inhaler,” Tuck added.
“This isn’t just a preference. If someone has a true allergy, it’s not that they just don’t like dogs,” Eftekhari said.
Eftekhari and Tuck both agree that if someone is actually horrifically allergic to pets, they need to work with an allergist to manage their allergies before a flight.
Otherwise, traveling will be way worse than it has to be.
“If their symptoms aren’t under control, something that they’re allergic to can give them rapid and severe symptoms,” Tuck said.
People who suffer from dog and cat allergies also need to develop a day-of-travel plan with their doctor so that they can travel in comfort.
1. Wipe down everything in your space
Tell the flight attendant that you have an allergy and ask to preboard. Get on the plane early and wipe down your entire area — the armrest, tray table, and even the fabric seats — with wet wipes.
2. Sit as far away from dogs and cats as possible
Call your airline ahead of time and ask the representative if anyone has booked a pet in the cabin, and to be seated as far away as possible. But don’t count on completely escaping itchy eyes. “Proximity will help some, but you won’t necessarily be able to avoid symptoms,” Tuck explained. Still, “not sitting in the same row would be smart.”
3. Consider the length of the flight
“The longer the animal is around you, the worse the allergic reaction,” Tuck shared. Rules vary by airline in terms of how many dogs and cats can be on a single flight, although that doesn’t include service animals. Aim to at least book longer-haul flights on airlines that have lower maximum pet limits to minimize your exposure.
4. Put your medication under the seat in front of you
“Keep your medications with you — don’t check them or stow them away,” Eftekhari suggested. “That way, you can have them at arms’ distance at all times,” in case you’re experiencing serious symptoms, like breathing problems. Tuck also suggested considering popping a Benadryl before the flight.
5. Wear a scarf and sunglasses
An M95 face mask might be a bit too intense during a cross-country flight, and typical painters’ masks won’t help much with keeping allergens out. Instead, allergy-proof yourself for the flight in a less noticeable way with a scarf around your face, Eftekhari recommended. She also suggested wearing sunglasses. “They can help block allergens’ contact with your eyes,” she explained.
6. Don’t even think about using the airline blankets or pillows
Airplanes aren’t cleaned that regularly, and blankets may have been used by other passengers with pets at home — and pet dander on their clothes and hair. Bring your own clean blanket or neck pillow, or go without.
7. Take a shower right after you get off the plane
Tuck says this will help — a lot.
8. Prep ahead of time with allergy shots
If you’re severely allergic to dogs or cats, it’s likely time to consider allergy shots. “So many people have cats, it makes it worth your while to go on shots, because you never known when you’ll be exposed,” Tuck explained.
Allergists will test you, then make up an extract personalized for you. You don’t have to take the shots forever. “The standard course of therapy is three to five years, which is a big commitment, but it can make a significant difference in your symptoms and quality of life,” Tuck said.
Tuck urges people who are allergic to pets to develop a plan with a primary care doctor or allergist.
“Allergies can impact your overall health. But you don’t have to suffer,” Tuck said.