What to Do When Animals Are on Board

Allergies to peanuts, shellfish, dogs, cats and other triggers haven’t stopped 31-year-old Allie Bahn, a fourth-grade teacher and blogger from Boston, from living in Italy for three years and in Australia for seven months. She keeps medication and sanitary wipes handy. Still, she’s had mystery attacks while traveling, including a severe one last fall that forced her to flee a hotel in the middle of the night. Consequently, she prefers renting apartments, as she can interview the owners, and calls airlines in advance to determine her risk.

“I recently flew American Airlines and they let me pre-board so I could use those wipes,” she said.

Preparedness allows Ms. Bahn, who is among more than 50 million Americans with allergies, to manage environmental threats, including the growing number of animals inhabiting the travel world from airplanes to hotels and that in some cases are pitting animal advocates against the allergy afflicted.

Passionate debate on the topic was ignited recently by an incident involving a 7-year-old boy who boarded an Allegiant Air flight in Bellingham, Wash., with his parents only to discover that he was allergic when seated near a service dog. The episode caused a 90-minute flight delay before the family was asked to deplane (making matters worse, some passengers reportedly cheered and the family wasn’t able to get home for two days).

About 10 percent of the United States population suffers from pet allergies, according to Dr. Stephen Tilles, a Seattle-based allergist and president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Symptoms run from itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing to more severe asthma symptoms including chest tightening, shortness of breath and wheezing, and hives.

Cats, he said, are twice as allergy-causing as dogs. Yet it’s dogs that tend to travel. According to the American Pet Products Association, about 39 percent of dog owners take their pets when traveling for two nights or more, versus 11 percent of cat people.

Aiming to fulfill demand without turning their cabins into zoos, airlines limit the size and number of pets that passengers can carry on for a fee. For example, Delta Air Lines allows six pet carriers per flight, at $125 each. American Airlines flew 122,818 pets as carry-ons last year, and while Southwest Airlines said it doesn’t tally the figure, the number of pets tends to spike during the holidays when travelers are flying to visit family.

Not included in these figures are service animals that assist the disabled and are not considered pets. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, commercial airlines must accommodate service animals without charging a fee.

They must also accommodate emotional support animals, defined as those that help relieve symptoms of stress, depression and other psychiatric conditions for which passengers are required to have a current letter from a mental health professional. Online sources for these documents abound, and in response to a recent New York Times article on pet allergies, a number of readers complained that this practice is being exploited by travelers seeking to avoid pet carry-on fees.

The airline solution to animal-versus-allergy is to reseat the afflicted. “We will reseat them in a place furthest from the animal or, if that is not acceptable or available, we will put them on the next available flight at no additional cost,” said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines.

Once they arrive at their destination, pets and their human escorts will have little trouble finding a hotel room. According to a 2014 survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, roughly 60 percent of hotels allow pets, up 10 percent over the previous decade.

From fancy homemade dog food to designer bedding, pet amenities abound at hotels. Increasingly, properties that never allowed dogs — such as the 70-year-old Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada in the Florida Keys — are now accepting them, and those that did — including Emerson Resort & Spa in the Catskills region of New York — are expanding availability, in this case to 22 of its 53 rooms.

“People think of their dogs as part of the family and most of the time you wouldn’t consider going on vacation without them unless it’s a 12-hour flight and your dog wouldn’t be comfortable,” said Melissa Halliburton, the president and founder of the pet travel website BringFido.com, which lists over 100,000 global pet-friendly hotels, attractions and restaurants. “With all the people traveling to hotels, they don’t want to leave their dog in their hotel room,” she said.

And even if the guests don’t pack pets, many hotels claim canine mascots, including the JW Marriott Houston Downtown where Sir Griffin, a pug, mingles with guests and their pets. House dogs reside at several Preferred Hotels & Resorts including Monti, a beagle, at the Jefferson in Washington, D.C., and Monty, a Bernese Mountain dog, at Montage Deer Valley in Utah.

There are no industry guidelines for animal care or capacity in hotels, leading to great variation. Although every hotel room must be available to a traveler with a service animal, in practice some hotels will create pet-specific floors or rooms in deference to travelers with allergies or those with aversions to the four-legged.

“Mixing and matching different guests in a hotel is a millennia-old challenge,” said Chekitan S. Dev, a professor of marketing and branding at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. “If I’m a hotel manager, I’m torn. On the one hand it creates additional service complexities. On the other hand, if you travel with your pet you’ll be happiest with your stay and be more likely to come back.”

Most hotels that accept pets charge a fee — generally $25 to $150 per stay — to cover the extra cleaning they say the room undergoes after a pet checks out.

At Residence Inn, Marriott’s extended-stay brand, pet fees range from $75 to $150 and are used to hire special cleaning services after a stay. Diane Mayer, global brand manager for Residence Inn, estimates that less than five percent of occupied rooms include pets, though seasonal fluctuations (for example, when Midwestern snowbirds are driving south for the winter) can cause regional spikes.

Allergies, she said, haven’t been a problem, though, “We’ve had to ask the guest to leave because the dog won’t stop barking or the dog is aggressive.”

Despite deep cleaning, pet dander can persist for several months, according to allergists. “Keep in mind that the average house without an animal in it has viable cat allergens in the dust in that house,” said Dr. Tilles of the American College of Allergy. “It comes from proteins off people’s clothing. It’s prevalent. Zero exposure isn’t a reasonable expectation.”

One bright spot for allergy sufferers: the availability of hypoallergenic hotel rooms rose 15 percent between 2004 and 2014 to 45 percent, according to the lodging association.

Motivated by the travel complaints of his patients, Dr. Mark Lazarovich, an allergist in South Burlington, Vt., created AllerPassMD.com, a free website that reviews more than 1,200 hotels with hypoallergenic rooms in cities including New York and Paris. During his research, he called one hotel with hypoallergenic rooms, which are intended to be pet-free, and, when he inquired, was told he could bring a dog.

“I think the good will is there, but there is a certain level of understanding of the problem that’s missing,” he said.

Source : http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/travel/dog-allergies-pet-transport.html?_r=1

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