Why a new rule about dogs on planes has sparked fierce debate

If you’re a dog lover who looks upon your beloved pet like family, having to leave them behind when you travel can be really difficult.

Currently, under strict rules enforced by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) only service dogs are permitted to travel in plane cabins with their handler. This means your only option is to book them into the cargo hold.

Confined in this dark, noisy space, often for several hours, many dogs find the experience highly distressing.

Sadly, there have also been cases, in Australia and other countries, where beloved pets have actually died during the flight.

A happy looking dog walks down a plane aisle. Source: AP
Not everyone agrees that it's a good idea to allow dogs into airplane cabins. Source: AP

However, from the beginning of December, the strict ban on pets in planes is set to be relaxed, with CASA now leaving it up to airlines to decide if dogs can travel in their cabins.

The change has divided travellers, with some questioning its on-board practicality.

CASA concedes the issue is not a straightforward one and there are a number of practicalities airlines will have to sort out before they would consider allowing dogs on board — such as the size of the dog, where it sits during the flight and how it’s restrained.

It is also difficult to predict a dog’s reaction to the noise of an aircraft, being in close proximity to other passengers and cabin crew, not to mention hygienically dealing with excrement.

Dog rules now up to airlines to decide

Under the changes to the rules, CASA makes it very clear whether dogs are allowed in the cabin is at the discretion of the individual airline.

When contacted for comment by Yahoo News Australia, a spokesperson for Qantas, who also owns Jetstar, confirmed the airline had “no plans to change its policy about animals on board at this stage”.

Dogs in cages in a cargo hold. Source: Getty Images
Dogs have previously been transported in airplane cargo holds. Source: Getty Images

A spokesperson for Virgin Australia, a company that prides itself on being pet friendly, said the airline was not ruling out welcoming dogs as passengers and they were “considering the regulatory changes as part of a wider pet travel review we’re currently undertaking".

"Regardless of the outcome, designated service dogs will still be able to travel in the cabin of the aircraft," the spokesperson said.

Virgin didn’t elaborate as to what prompted a review of their guidelines, however, the company has polled its 1.4 million social media followers about whether pets should be allowed on planes.

Travellers divided on dogs in plane cabins

Although some dog lovers have enthusiastically welcomed CASA’s announcement, there has also been vocal online opposition, even from dog lovers.

Many are describing CASA’s decision as “a very bad idea on every level” with concerns raised about safety, hygiene, allergies and the unpredictable nature of dogs.

A dog walks along a plane aisle (left). A dog looks outside from a plane window (right). Source: AP
Dogs may soon be allowed into airplane cabins in Australia. Source: AP

On the other hand, one dog owner said she’d far prefer to share a flight with "a well-behaved pet, rather than a noisy child kicking the back of my chair”.

Other pet owners have said Australia is out of step with other countries and “pets deserve a more humane form of travel".

Some have also suggested “they would travel more if they were able to take their dog on short flights.”

Simon Smith, CEO of online pet supply company PetCulture, is very much in favour of CASA’s relaxation of the rules on pets and sees it offering benefits to both pets and their owners alike.

"There is also a huge benefit to the ‘pet parent’, alleviating concerns they may have about leaving their pet behind," he said.

Flying with pets would help anxious travellers, vet says

Veterinarian Michael Archinal, an international expert on the human-animal bond, and advisor to PetCulture believes allowing pets on planes is a positive step for the pet community, as well as for highly anxious flyers.

“There is a countless amount of research that shows pet relieve stress, anxiety and blood pressure in people," Dr Archinal said.

A dog rests his head on a mans foot under a plane seat. Source: AP
Airline cabin crew saying having untrained dogs onboard will significantly add to their workload. Source: AP

Both Dr Archinal and Mr Smith have offered to work with airlines and help them develop a pet-friendly policy.

This policy will deal with issues such as allowing pet-free sections of the cabin for allergy sufferers and seating arrangements for passengers not wanting to be near pets.

Dr Archinal agrees Australia is behind on this issue and need to catch up.

“We’re not a practice market. Pets on planes has been successfully implemented all over the world," he said.

Cabin airline crew have their say

Apart from other passengers, another group that would be directly impacted by having dogs on board, are the cabin crews responsible for keeping passengers comfortable and ensuring their safety.

Transport Workers’ Union National Secretary Nick McIntosh says “we are disappointed that frontline workers who would be most affected by these rule changes were not consulted directly about them".

"There is concern among cabin crew that bringing an untrained animal onboard an aircraft would pose safety and hygiene risks to other passengers and crew," he said.

"If an incident occurred crew would have to deal with it, taking them away from their busy duties.”

Dr Archinal and Mr Smith admit there “will be teething problems”, but they are ready and willing to work with the airlines to sort through these issues and come up with a solution.

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