This is the story of an 'emotional support cat' aboard an Alaska Airlines flight, and a 15-year-old fellow passenger who, it turns out, was severely allergic to cats.

Can you guess which one had to leave the plane?

The story takes place on Alaska Airlines, and it comes to us from The Arctic Sounder, a weekly newspaper serving the extreme northern parts of Alaska, where the girl lives. The Arctic Sounder in turn got it from the girl's mother, who posted it on Facebook.

Here's what happened according to the mom. (I reached out to her to fill in some details; no reply yet. Her entire Facebook post is embedded below.)

'An emotional support cat bought a seat' 

It all started last week, after the woman's daughter, had been away for two weeks at camp, was boarding Alaska Airlines flight 153, a Boeing 737 from Anchorage to Kotzebue, Alaska.

The girl saw once she boarded that that another passenger was holding a cat in the seat next to her, and she told an employee that she had severe allergies to cats. One of the Alaska Airlines customer service agents allegedly started to argue with the girl, blaming her for not telling them about her allergies before she got on the plane.

A flight attendant, who seems more sympathetic to the girl than the customer service agent in the mom's telling, then called the girl's mother. She explained that as much as she'd like to remove the cat from the plane, its owner had actually bought the cat a ticket. 

Now, the flight attendant said, the cat owner was insisting that if anyone had to leave the plane, it should be the girl--not her cat. And that's exactly what happened: the airline told the 15-year-old she could either stay on the flight and risk an allergic reaction, or else get off and staying overnight in Anchorage.

"So, an hour ago," the girl's mother wrote, "my 15-year-old minor child was removed from Flight 153 on Alaska Airlines from Anchorage to Kotzebue, because an Emotional Support cat bought a seat so it could fly with the owners."

A ridiculous situation

I asked Alaska Airlines for their side of the story. Here's what the airline had to say:

"We do our best to accommodate all individuals when they are traveling on Alaska Airlines. In this situation, our staff followed process in working to provide as much distance onboard as possible between a traveler with allergies and another traveler with an animal in the cabin. 

While attempts were made to assist both passengers, the underage traveler elected to be reaccommodated on a later flight due to her allergies."

I truly wish the airline would have engaged and offered more of a dialogue, because it seems like there might be some facts missing. We don't know for example if the passenger with the cat actually followed Alaska's rules and turned in documentation about an emotional support animal 48 hours before takeoff.

But set that aside: I acknowledge that I simply find these situations ridiculous.

As much as I love animals, if you're bringing one aboard an airplane, and other passengers are allergic to that animal, it's you, the pet owner, who should be inconvenienced--not the allergic passengers.

Six bites in 60 days

Of course, this story includes two timely elements--both abuse of the emotional support animal laws, but also accommodation of passengers with allergies. Given that airlines are doing things like banning peanuts because some passengers are allergic to them, it seems insane to simultaneously allow other passengers to bring live animals aboard.

Recently The Wall Street Journal reported that there have been six bite incidents in the last 60 days aboard Delta Air Lines, for example, and that the airline now has to carry about 700 emotional support animals on flights every day (up from 450 in 2016).

And it seems that this is one of the few times that airlines are actually "begging for new regulations rather than opposing them," as the Journal article puts it--anything to stop the absurdity of so-called emotional support animals trumping human passengers' rights on board airplanes.

"I think we've hit a tipping point," Gil West, Delta's chief operating officer, told the Journal. "We're very concerned about the safety of our customers and our crew."

Eventually the girl did make it home to Kotzebue, after staying the night in Anchorage with family. But for her, and many other travelers like her, a change in the law can't come soon enough.

Here's the original Facebook post, by the mother of the girl who had to get off the plane. Let us know what you think about this situation in the comments.

Published on: Aug 11, 2018