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posted: 3/7/2010 12:01 AM

Pets onboard become a peeve for some travelers

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Did you hear about the lady who let the cat out of the bag, literally? Last week when the owner was going through security at Newark Liberty International Airport, the agent required her to remove her cat from its carrier before putting the container through the X-ray machine. Apparently, Fluffy had an aversion to cat scans and bolted. She got stuck under a bomb-detection machine and caused the agents to close down the security line while they chased down the cat. The owner got her cat back, but she missed her flight and so did several other passengers.

It's not just security lines that close down when the fur flies. For Stacy Bruce it was her throat. Stacy is severely allergic to cat dander. On a flight to Los Angeles, she was seated next to a man with a cat boarded under the seat in front of him. It was a full flight so Stacy tried to live with it. But when she started gasping for air, a flight attendant found a passenger to trade seats with her.

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A couple of years ago when Natalie Kremeier flew from Atlanta to Chicago, her throat didn't close up, but her eyes watered from a horrible odor that permeated the whole cabin. Natalie thought one of the lavatories had backed up. It turned out to be one small pup stowed in a carrier under a seat. The little guy apparently had stomach problems.

"If someone has to travel with his pet, he should put it in cargo," said my seat partner on a recent flight, when a dog began to whine in the adjacent row.

It could happen if a group of Canadian doctors gets its way. In a recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the physicians said the allergy threats posed by animals boarded in the cabins were significant and all animals should be banned from the cabins and placed in cargo.

So far the fur still flies. But if you do plan to travel with your pet in the cabin, there are some things you should know.

Most airlines allow a limited number of pets onboard. American Airlines allows two animals to be boarded in first class and five animals in coach and charges $100 for the service. Southwest Airlines charges $75 for the privilege and allows up to five animals. Delta Air Lines charges $125 for the service and allows two pets in first class, two pets in BusinessElite and four pets in the main cabin. These three carriers limit pets to just dogs and cats. United Airlines has similar rules, but includes small birds in the count.

Some carriers require health certificates. Others require proof of vaccinations. They all require a pet remain in a carrier under a passenger seat for the entire flight and they limit the size of the traveling pet and the container.

While pet owners cringe at the idea of checking their pets as luggage, not all passengers enjoy sharing the cabin with them. For pet owners, the doctors' report will not meet with howling success. But allergy sufferers will rejoice. Before you make plans to travel with your pet, check with your carrier for their specific rules and make sure the fur still flies with them.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via e-mail at gailtodd@aol.com.

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