A Pet Peeve: Animals in the Next Seat

As has been pointed out in the Washington Post and in its blog The Volokh Conspiracy, “service” animals are permitted to fly on planes, despite the fact that many people (including my wife) are quite allergic to them. The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act permits the pets not only to be on the plane (and without paying for the privilege) but to be held and petted on the owner’s lap, spreading dog or cat dander throughout the cabin. Moreover, it is relatively easy to “buy unofficial documents or apparel” to indicate that the pet is indeed a service animal.

I see two ways that this can be resolved within the strictures of the ADA. First, include allergies within the scope of the Act. For example, I have been on flights where peanuts were not given out because the carrier had been notified that a passenger had an extreme reaction to them, possibly resulting in anaphylactic shock. Although my wife’s allergy to pet dander is not that severe, others may not be as fortunate. A note from her allergist would certainly be a lot more convincing than the aforesaid “service animal” documents.

Second, as with smokers on planes in earlier years, have the persons with pets sit in the rearmost seats, and have those with substantiated allergies sit further away from the rear. According to one of the airline personnel we queried about it, a separation of about seven rows is enough to minimize the spread of pet dander.

Accommodating the disabilities of others is certainly worthwhile, but not when (1) it is so easy to fake the disability and (2) it adversely affects others with other disabilities who have the same right to be accommodated.

Author: Mike Maltz

Michael D. Maltz is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice and of Information and Decision Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently an adjunct professor of sociology at the Ohio State University His formal training is in electrical engineering (BEE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1959; MS & PhD Stanford University, 1961, 1963), and he spent seven years in that field. He then joined the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (now National Institute of Justice), where he became a criminologist of sorts. After three years with NIJ, he spent thirty years at the University of Illinois at Chicago, during which time he was a part-time Visiting Fellow at the US Bureau of Justice Statistics. Maltz is the author of Recidivism, coauthor of Mapping Crime in Its Community Setting, and coeditor of Envisioning Criminology.

6 thoughts on “A Pet Peeve: Animals in the Next Seat”

  1. I agree. It's kind of ridiculous that anyone can buy a little dog vest and a laminated card and their animal gets full access to restricted spaces without any sort of direction or approval from a medical professional. We restrict animals from certain public spaces for good reasons.

  2. The obvious solution is for people with disabilities and/or allergies to be quarantined in separate planes from the rest of us!

  3. Any program is going to be abused. That's not a reason to deny the use of service dogs to people whose ability to function depends on them.

  4. Agreed. I think we should both accommodate the people who have real need for animal help … and put them in a separate section, which I am not sure needs to be the back… the optics on that aren't great are they?… *and* crack the bleep down on everyone else. For this, we need doctors to have backbone. Which may be a lost cause.

    I don't know that I think emotional support animals should be included. That seems like a very squishy area to me. I would like to know more though.

    Mark as usual you make an excellent point… I would say though that ime, "dog people" (which is not *all* dog owners… but I bet we all know who they are!) do not see breaking rules about dogs as wrong. It is a little different than those people who use fake disabled placards, most of whom probably know it is wrong.

  5. Btw Mark, are you ever moving back here? I feel like there's a hole in the Force in LA now. An existential dumbing down has happened. Not that you really wrote about LA much but still. This place needs help!

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