As the Fur Flies: Airlines Ordered to Amend Pet Policies

A recent Canadian Transportation Agency decision has ruled that Air Canada, Jazz and WestJet need to amend their policies with respect to the carriage of cats as carry-on baggage in the aircraft cabin.

The decision resulted from a complaint by three passengers who all suffer from severe cat allergies. Although some of the complainants asked that all animals (other than service animals) be prohibited in the cabin, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) only decided the issue with respect to cats as the complainants were only allergic to cats, and not other animals.

In a previous hearing, the CTA ruled that the complainants’ allergies were severe enough to constitute a disability. The next question for the CTA was whether the current policies of Air Canada, Jazz and WestJet constituted an obstacle to the mobility of the complainants. If so, the CTA would consider the appropriate accommodation to be made for the complainants and persons whose cat allergies result in a disability.

The CTA noted that not all minor allergies would be considered a disability. Generally, allergies that only resulted in sneezing, runny nose or watery eyes were  not considered disabilities. Allergies that are more severe and could lead to respiratory problems were generally considered disabilities under the Canada Transportation Act. The CTA also noted that the majority of allergens in an aircraft cabin are brought onboard via the clothes of human passengers.

Air Canada, Jazz and WestJet all had policies with respect to pets as carry-on baggage. These policies included limiting the number of pets in the cabin, accommodating passengers who requested to be seated away from pets and rescheduling passengers who did not wish to fly on an aircraft with a cat. However, the CTA found that these policies did not constitute an appropriate accommodation and amounted to an obstacle to the mobility of the Applicants.

The CTA noted that HEPA filters, 100% un-recirculated fresh air and proscribed seating separations were effective accommodations to prevent obstacles to the mobility of passengers with cat allergies.  However, Jazz Air’s Dash 8-100/300 aircraft do not have an acceptable HEPA filter.  Therefore, the only effective accommodation on this type of aircraft was to create policies to ensure that cats would not travel in the cabin on the same flight as passengers with severe cat allergies.

The airlines were ordered to amend their policies to include either:

  1. a ban on cats carried as pets in the aircraft cabin in which a person with a disabling cat allergy is travelling; or
  2. the following measures:

i)  air circulation/ventilation systems using HEPA filters or which provide 100 percent unrecirculated fresh air; and,

ii) a seating separation which is confirmed prior to boarding the flight and which provides a minimum of five rows between persons with a disability as a result of their allergy to cats and cats carried as pets in the cabin.

It is interesting to note that in a 2008 decision, the CTA ordered Air Canada to allow pets to be carried as baggage because banning them was an unreasonable condition of carriage.  Meow!

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