Flying with Asthma and/or Animal Allergy

The friendly skies can be downright hostile if you’re one of the millions of airline passengers who suffer animal-related allergies. Add food allergies, and it becomes a transportation jungle.

That’s partly because airlines must consider competing needs: the passenger who needs a service animal versus the flier for whom animal dander is an issue, and the passenger who has a food allergy versus fliers who do not.

Disabled passengers who need service animals and passengers who suffer asthma and allergies are legally protected groups under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act.

“If a passenger has an allergy that rises to the level of a disability [e.g., produces shock or respiratory distress that could require emergency or significant medical treatment], and there is an individual with a service animal seated nearby, airlines have an obligation to accommodate both passengers under the ACAA,” DOT rules say. “One disability does not trump another.”

The solutions to these problems are imperfect and, in some cases, not yet in place. For now, here is what you need to know when passengers’ needs conflict and you or a loved one must be protected.

Animal issues

►Let the airline know ahead of time about your pet allergy and ask to be seated away from any animals.

►For additional protection, a passenger with a severe animal allergy should do a sinus rinse (salt, baking soda and water) immediately before boarding and immediately after deplaning, said Dr. Rita Kachru, an allergist/immunologist and assistant professor at UCLA.

►The passenger also should take an antihistamine before and after, and consider using a steroid nasal spray such as Flonase or Nasacort, she said.

As always, check with your doctor before taking medications or using procedures new to you.

What precautions do you take when flying? What are some tips you have learned that would help others when flying with asthma and/or animal allergy?


Comments 18

  • Shea

    I do not fly because if a dog brishes against my skin I break oyt in hives, dog dander is very airborne and causes significant breathing issues/asthma attack, it also starts a chain reaction in my body that is not stopped by antihistamines in which the allergy causes eosinophils to be produced (blood cells produced during allergy) that can get into my tisdues including my heart. I have also had anaphlactic- like reactions in which I did need epupen and emergency medical services, Ambulance/ER/multiple breathing treatments. I am a severe case but even before diagnosis of a severe allergic disease I had lesser reactions that became this larger problem by chronic exposure to dander. So those with dander allergies who are chronically exposed to dander in public places may have worsening effect on their health and none of tge dolutions offered above are acceptable to me– just take more steroids?– no thanks. I wont fly until they offer certain planes that are reserved and kept animal-free (and peanut-free). Their solutions are sillier than smoking and non smoking sections on planes.

  • Breatheeasy

    In case of food allergies are you not allowed to carry your own food? I was reading and saw that you’re allowed to carry your own food. Don’t know if what I read is  correct though. 

  • Kathy P

    You can definitely carry on your own food. Do you mean getting food through TSA screening? I always make sure I have snacks that will not getting flagged at security (no liquids, gel type substances). There are some airports that require you to remove all of your snacks for screening – kind of like removing your liquids. I have not encountered that myself.

    I see a lot of people bringing food from the airport food court onto the plane.

  • K8sMom2002

    One word of caution about food and flights — if you're flying from country to country, you may wind up not being able to take fresh fruits and vegetables with you. Customs' rules vary, so check first. 

  • Marie E Natzke

    Melissa G

    All the things the Dr said to do would not help me. Sitting farther away would not help me either. True service animals are rare to run into. Pets are every-where. 

  • Shea

    Animal-free planes are a way to prevent harm to people with allergies and asthma, and that means all furry animals– service or otherwise. I know we could fight the fight of getting less animals on the plane, but that doesnt fix the problem– we are not safe. There are enough of us where we should be able to get on a plane safely (not injected with steroids, that is not acceptable, that is not safe).

    Right now one disability (the need for animals) is trumping another one (animal allergies and asthma), the solutions offered above do not prevent harm (as many studies have shown). 

    At the very least, the airlines should be able to choose humans over pets and breathing over any other srrvice animal need but not even that choice is legally available. No one will fight for us. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Hugs, Shea and Marie! Thanks for sharing and putting your thoughts into words. You both put things in a very plain and simple way that anyone should be able to understand. 

    You aren't alone!

  • Pljohns

    Thankfully I don't have pet or food allergies but I have done a fair amount of flying with severe asthma and more meds than you want to know about.  The first time I flew I called TSA and they were very helpful.  I travel with multiple nebulizers and MANY (like almost 100 depending on the time away) vials of meds-some of which are temp sensitive and require special packaging.  They told me EXACTLY how to label everything and what to have (including a letter from my pulmo that I had to have the neb WITH ME at all times).  It's been a pain-I average 2 hours at least to get through TSA but I've gotten everything through.  I have 1 med size duffel bag that has nothing but meds in it.  When you fly, if you have a bag with nothing but meds in it, it doesn't count as your carry on-which is really nice.

    My pulmo has me take 60 mg pred the day I fly and I do a neb just before getting on the plane.  So far, that has served me well.  I'm much more comfortable flying now and getting through TSA-I've just learned to get to the airport 3 hrs early and allow 2 hrs at least for TSA.

    I will say though-the first flight I took, I was ready to scream at a lady-she had a schnauzer with her-not a mini one-full size-that she "just couldn't stand to leave at home"-no crate or anything-that dog was in her lap, my lap-everywhere the entire flight and she was in the seat next to me!  There were no other seats on the plane or I would have moved.

  • toomanyallergies

    Thank you to everyone who has posted about their severe dog allergies. I have a really severe allergy that isn't touched by antihistamines and my life is miserable. I want to travel, but there is no way I would make it on a plane with a dog on it. I don't know anyone else in real life with a dog allergy like mine. 

    Has anyone had any luck getting a reasonable accommodation in the form of a dog free flight? Just sitting far away from a dog won't be enough for me unfortunately. I feel like most of what I've heard, a service dog always trumps an animal allergy, even if it causes inability to breathe in the allergic person. It is really frustrating and I wish aafa would consider doing some lobbying around this to get the language of the ADA that refers to allergies changed. 

  • K8sMom2002

    ToomanyAllergies, how frustrating for you! Have you tried wearing a mask? It's not always the answer, but on short flights, it might help.

    You'd asked if AAFA was advocating for folks with dander allergies — and the organization is!

    AAFA supports the current  that was introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal. It will provide a pathway for passengers to file complaints.

    AAFA is definitely working to help address this.  In June of 2018,  explaining why asthma and allergies should be taken into consideration as disabilities during airline travel.

  • Shea

    Hi Toomanyallergies! (Thank you for posting as well). I have not contacted the airlines regarding getting a pet-free flight, but I jave participated in messages/complaints voicing my opinion on the matter, especially after I heard a case where a young boy with dog allergy was removed from a plane and passengers applauded:

    –which was really angering to me and I just dont want to risk being on a plane that many dogs travel, on even if it is not my flight. My allergy is so bad: airways, eyes, skin, and it is part of a greater chronic allergic disease too that could get flared up, so I decided I will not attempt it until they offer animal-free passenger aircraft. I do not like the general public nor the airlines attitude toward people with allergied, but I do know some people and programs are raising awareness and advocating for us, and I do have a dream… That people will accept that many people cannot travel in close indoor spaces regularly inhabited by animals they and their children are allergic to, and that animal-free aircraft would provide a safe place for allergic employees and passengers (as well as those with phobias or preferences to not travel with animals), that there is enough of a market for such aircraft and that it is the right thing to do to provide that option to us all…. We need to be able to breathe and it just doesnt feel good getting sick, being cheered off… And being treated as less than an aninal– people are more concerned about animal welfare that human beings welfare and we should all be treated with dignity and have rights to be safe and healthy.

  • toomanyallergies

    , I am so happy to here that there are some lobbying efforts going on for this issue. Having a severe dander allergy is isolating and frustrating and I feel like my needs are always taking a backseat to not only service animals but pets as well. Even my local library has a read to a dog program where they bring dogs INSIDE the library for kids to read to. Couple that with businesses that just have shop dogs, the fact that 15% of offices are now dog friendly….lit's a complete nightmare. 

    I have not tried a mask, but I have thought about that plus, I have read there are personal air purifiers that you can wear around your neck? I would be really curious to hear others experiences, although I guess the best thing for me to do would be to take a mask to someones house who has a dog and try it out. 

    , I did read about that case and it made me very upset as well. 

    One thing I am starting to do is email airlines. I just got a response from one saying that can't accommodate me because of "emotional support animals." After I get replies from all the airlines I emailed, I plan to file an ADA complaint with the department of justice. 

    Perhaps if others with severe dander allergies would do the same thing as well, we might be able to get some traction on this issue. 

  • K8sMom2002

    TooManyAllergies, hugs on the frustration and the isolation!

    Airline flights aren't covered under the ADA. They're regulated by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The ACAA has a much broader definition of a service animal — the ADA, on the other hand, has a narrow definition of a service animal. AAFA is advocating for the ACAA's definition of service animal to match up to the ADA's narrow definition of a service animal. 

    You'd asked about the around-the-neck purifier. 

    Is it one of these types?

    • ozone generator
    • electrostatic precipitator 
    • ionizer
    • a "filterless" "purifier" that uses hydrogen and oxygen to fuse together to "purify" the air?

    If it's one of these types, the . 

    Ozone, a lung irritant, is produced indirectly by ion generators and some other electronic air cleaners and directly by ozone generators. While indirect ozone production is of concern, there is even greater concern with the direct, and purposeful introduction of a lung irritant into indoor air. 

      is very hard on the lungs.

  • Dar007

    What’s a around the neck purifier? I have never heard of that. I am lucky. I have an allergy to dog dander but it isn’t nearly as bad as some of you. I travel quite a bit, as much as I can. I have yet to be in any flight where they had animals in the cabin with people, but in the grand scheme of things, I am on one plane of thousands flying at any one time. I love dogs and would love to have one (his name would be Floyd), but I don’t get people having their dogs on their lap in a plane! That would annoy me SO much. The seats are so cramped as it is…leave your dog home! I am so sorry to hear of everyone’s allergies. It really is something people should pay attention too. Unless they have the same problem, people don’t think how their actions affect others. Perfume is something though that really affects me…and have been affected on a few flights. Sometimes I will have an allergic reaction, and have no clue where it is coming from. So weird. This thread has made me think I need a vacation soon. Lol Just to get out of this cold weather….

  • K8sMom2002

    Dar, there are gadgets that say they purify your air when you travel, but most of them are "Ionic" or "electrostatic" devices that may not be effective. 

    One other thing about dog dander is that it is sticky. It's not so much a pet hair allergy — it's a pet protein allergy, and that protein is in the dog's skin flakes, urine, saliva and feces. So unless the planes are cleaned thoroughly, there may be some issue of cross-contamination. 

    I love dogs and cats, and we are lucky enough that we tolerate our own animals. But folks like Shea have educated me on how difficult dander allergies are for many people, and I try very hard to be respectful of that.

    Besides the issues that pet dander causes many people is the "does it belong" question. IMHO, the last place that I want to be cooped up with an animal that could panic is 33,000 feet in the air in an aluminum tube!

  • Shea

    @toomanyallergies I am just glad to hear another person with severe dander allergies on here, and that I am not alone in dealing with the new dogs-everywhere policies and trends (but at the same time I am sorry you have to go through it too– it really is a horrible and de-humanizing experience… Hearing that you cant travel because of others' "emotional support" animals. It disgusts me at what a mix up of priorities these policies reflect. A while back a flight attendent with dander allergies was on the forum, and she was getting ill all the time. I also get mad when people tell me to just medicate because that was the initial advice I had to deal with allergies before I developed a chronic allergic disease and it just git me more sick and into worse situations. I have a lot of pent up anger, and I try forms of advocacy sometimes to help me deal with it, but I get flustered by it when I hear responses sometimes too, so I take breaks from it as well.

    I mostly want an ability to deny service animals, emotional support animals, any animals, to indoor facilities because they fundamentally alter the environment and cause harm to others (many people with allergies and asthma). I want to own a business one day and have it allergy and asthma-friendly and be able to work there and know a service animal lawsuit will not close me down– I dont think I could handle that type of thing happening to me, emotionally or physically, and it puts a damper on me getting motivated. I deal with some helplessness in not being able to work and being on disability, and the difficulties of being social, and the symptims of the disease, and the side effects of the medications. And raising a son in this tyoe of world (who also has dander allergies)… I want a place in society where I feel safe and cared for and BREATHE and not get kicked out of so a dog can come in because it makes its owner calmer. Call me crazy, but Id like to be prioritized over a dog… And if soneone has to leave– it should be the dog.

    So far, colleges are allowed to have animal-free housing/ dorm rooms and some parks can say no dogs because the park animals/nature will become disrupted. I think I might be able to syart a business– maybe an entire industry and market will start as people get frustrated with the dogs-everywhere stuff. My hope lies there.



  • K8sMom2002

    Shea, in the time that I've come to know you on these forums, you've found your voice — kind, gentle and yet proactive and firm. You're a force for good and for education and awareness.

    I know that you can do anything you put your mind to — but I also respect and admire the way that you prioritize your health and your son's health. 

    Awareness has a long way to go, and I know the road can be challenging and frustrating at times. It's corny but true — you're not alone in this! We've got you!

  • Kathy P

    I just spotted this article from Allergic Living – they gathered up the policies on a bunch of different airlines -