The Canadian Medical Association has voted to urge all commercial airlines in the country to ban passengers from bringing pets into airplane cabins in order to protect other travellers who suffer from allergies.
Canadian doctors say that "the current federal regulations allowing major national airlines to accept in-cabin household pets are posing serious threats to people allergic to animals," according to a report by the Calgary Herald.
Airlines in Canada, including WestJet and Air Canada , currently allow cats and small dogs to be carried on board flights with some limitations. They say at this time they have no plans to restrict animals, including birds and rabbits, to pressurized cargo holds despite the vote by physicians who say the exposure to allergens can make the journey nearly impossible for some travelers with allergies.
Medical doctors raised their concerns after the World Health Organization classified allergies to pets as a disability. After a number of complaints were filed by a few passengers with allergies to cats the physicians voted 93% in favor of an outright ban on pets from airline cabins.
“Although airlines argue that this is a great convenience for pet owners, the practice actually exposes our patients, and their passengers, to significant allergens that can make the journey very difficult — and occasionally passengers can become seriously ill as a result,” said Dr. Mark Schonfeld.
WestJet disagrees with the doctors and said in a statement to the Calgary Herald "In the past 18 months, WestJet has flown about 58,000 pets in aircraft cabins and approximately 25 million passengers on over 243,000 flights. During that period, the flight crews have been made aware of only a handful of allergy-related incidents where pets were present in the cabin. A sweeping ban on pets may “overstate the reality of the incidence of serious allergic reactions that may be attributed to the presence of pets in airline cabins,” said Robert Palmer, a spokesman for the airline.
Air Canada, who say they have no plans to reverse their decision to lets pets fly with their owners, said they limit the number of pets on a flight to two. A statement posted on their website reads, "We are sensitive to the concerns of allergy sufferers, and we understand that some of our customers may not wish to be seated too close to a cat or small dog during their flight. For this reason, we ask that, if you are an allergy sufferer, you should advise the check-in agent or gate agent prior to your flight departure to ensure you are not next to a customer travelling with a pet. We will make reasonable efforts to move you or the pet and pet owner."
Angela Mah, a spokeswoman for Air Canada said, "it’s impossible to guarantee a dander-free cabin, even without pets, noting that the allergens can also be carried on the clothes of travelers."
Air Canada banned pets in 2009 after a resolution by the Canadian Medical Association to study a ban on the four-legged pets from flights. They quickly reversed that decision to meet the needs of the flying public, said the airline spokesman.
The Canadian Transportation Agency has ruled individuals with allergies to cats are "persons with disabilities in the context of air travel." The Agency said they are "examining whether airline policies of accepting cats in the aircraft cabin constitutes an obstacle to the mobility of the allergy sufferers and if they prevent or impede the people with allergies from travelling by air."
The proposed ban on pets by the Canadian Medical Association would not affect service animals flying in passenger cabins with their owners.