Sunday, October 12, 2014

They can't travel?

"Carriers should do their best to accommodate other passengers concerns." states the 2009 rule in the DOT airlines requirements.

It seems that a recent complaint that was voiced concerns an airline traveler and their 2 month old child.  The child suffers from pet allergies and there were two small dogs sharing the cabin on their flight during the summer.  The question raised was why pets were allowed to be on the plane if they were not a service animal.

There are certainly many people who wish to travel with their pets for whatever reason they have.  I will leave that question for a bit and look at the larger question of whether the airlines are treating traveling animals better than human passengers, specifically, the infant with an allergy.  The airlines do not charge for a ticket or seat for a child that is under one year old and most only require a health certificate for an infant under seven days old that is traveling.  They will only charge for another ticket if that child will be restrained in a child seat and will not be traveling on a parent's lap.

In comparison, my pet will be charged no matter how it is riding on the plane.  Each airline sets it's own rules as to the size of the pet and carrier as well as the cost.  It must travel in a pressurized cargo area, which is only certain flights, can not travel during hot months or on very long direct flights.  The costs vary from $175 to $250 per pet or carrier and there may also be a limit placed on how many animals are on that specific flight.  This means that if I am going to travel with my pet, I must research my flights a lot more than someone who just books the cheapest flight on a travel website.

The airlines also charge if an animal is traveling in the cabin with it's owner.  The prices vary from $70 to $125 plus taxes and fees as well a requirement of making the reservation before you arrive at the airport.  The two month old........ no reservation or charge as long as it is sitting in a parent's lap.  Animals traveling in cabin also have to fit in a carry-on sized, approved carrier.

I have traveled with animals on airlines quite often.  This is not because I like to take my pet along for a vacation but because I competitively showed rabbits nationwide for many years.  When there is a national convention, similar to Westminster is to the dog world, the location may be on the opposite coast that I live on.  I certainly could have spent the money and time to drive across the US, stressing my vehicle, myself and my rabbits or I could relax and fly.

Step one for travel is a visit to my travel agent.......... yes, they still have these.  I head there because I am not ambitious enough to try and do all the booking chutes and ladders by myself.  If the animals are going as cargo, the charge applies for each set of carriers going and the agent will make the animal reservations as well as making sure there is enough room for them in a pressurized cargo hold.

Step two before going will entail a veterinarian appointment so they they can all receive health certificates.  This is not free as well and most states and/or airlines will require that they have them before they are loaded on a plane.  This will be followed by step three which is to select the correct size carriers and attach the food cups and water bottles, plastic sleeves to keep their paperwork in and add all the correct signs.  Signs you ask?  Of course silly..... they have to have care instructions, notes about any additional food that may be with them and contact information is case...... heaven forbid, they are "lost" like baggage can be at times.

Check in for them is a joy as well.  You can count on it taking longer to check in for a flight, no fast lane for you.  The animals are not just plopped on the baggage belt behind the agent.  There usually is a call put in for someone assigned to that flight to come and retrieve them so they can be taken out a separate way to the plane.  I make it a point to notify the flight attendants that I am flying with animals and would they please tell me when they have been loaded on the plane.  I will bet that you don't get that kind of treatment for you hello kitty suitcase.

On the few occasions that I have traveled with them in the cabin with me, I still go through the same measures.  There was one time where I had driven with the rabbits on the start of the trip but was flying home since the car stayed with it's owner.  Once again, I had gone to the travel agent and had done everything I needed to, Even so far as bringing the carrier I was flying with so she could verify by phone with the airline, that it did qualify as a carry on bag.

The real fun began at the airport.......  I checked in and went through the security line.  The three rabbits were traveling in the approved carrier which was split into three compartments.  They had to ride through the x-ray machine which I am sure they thoroughly enjoyed.  When I got down to the gate though, the issues began.  I was approached by an attendant and told that they were taking me off to a separate room so that I could transfer the rabbits to this little plastic clam shell of a carrier.

I told her, one..... I don't need a separate room since they would sit in the carrier quite well without leaping out and racing through the terminal and two......... three rabbits could not fit in something that small.  They were quite insistent that even though I had paid $100 for their chance to ride in the cabin at my feet in the carrier that the airline had approved at booking, the rabbits could not ride in it.

I was asked if the carrier would fit in the overhead bin because it seems that they were upset that the carrier would not slide all of the way under the seat in front of me.  I was quite content with having them sit there with my feet on the top of the carrier.  I asked the attendants if it would be okay with airline policy if the bin accidentally popped open and the metal carrier landed on a passenger's head.  I left out the thought that you had to be a moron to put a living thing in an overhead bin.

It did not take me long to spot the obvious stalemate we had arrived at so I use plan B.  I looked the attendants in the eyes and slowly and clearly said........ the rabbits have enough food for 24 hours as required and there is extra in my carry-on bag that I will leave with them.  The friend that had dropped me off at the airport can be here to pick them up most likely within the next day or two and I would like the rabbits ticket price refunded to me, since they won't be flying.

After another ten minutes of discussion among themselves, they arrived at a solution that worked for all of us.  My rabbits and I were led on the plane first and had our seat changed to the two seats furthest in the back.  The rest of the passengers who had been made to wait to board did not look all that happy.  In the end, the rabbits rode in the seat next to me, seat belted in and enjoying a window seat.  They must have checked with me at least a dozen times during the flight and the answer was always the same............ one is sleeping, the other switches from window view to aisle view and the third was resting it's chin on it's food cup.

Were my rabbits treated better than a passenger such as a two month old?  Yes they were because they actually paid to be on that plane.  They were not traveling just because I enjoy taking them on vacation with me.  They traveled over a thousand mile because I had attended a rabbit show and they were shown there.  They were required to have numerous things before they got on the plane but I have not found any rules as to requirements for children under one year.  No one requires that they have spare diapers, food, things to amuse them or keep them from screaming the whole flight.

If you stay in a hotel with an infant, there is no additional charge to cover clean up because everyone knows that a small child won't spill anything, damage things, run the halls or be a nuisance when crying all night.  I do pay the charge when I have to but I am also a responsible pet owner who leaves a room as clean or cleaner than when I checked in.  There are many reasons a person may travel with a pet.  If a vacation is going to last a month, the bill for boarding your pet will kill you, whether it is in home care or outside.

In case you may feel that I have no sympathy for allergies, I do since I have my own allergies.  I don't whine about it or threaten to sue because they didn't provide me with what I need to eat or it was served to me.  I know that if I am paying an additional charge for my pet to board a plane, it has the same rights as any other ticket paying customer.  How many travelers, have ranted against the additional charges for suitcases they are traveling with?  I know that I have but my rant would be with the automatic charge for my pet while I watch someone carry on a three foot tall trophy as "carry-on" for free.


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