dogs on planes

Two days ago, after passing through security at JFK’s terminal 4 for a flight to Colombia, the improved TSA screening process gifted me 40 minutes of buffer time, so I stopped in a lounge to connect to the internet and enjoy machine brewed coffee.  While downing my second double expresso, I heard a CNN story squawking in the background about a flight out of Philadelphia being cancelled, initiated by the flight attendants ordering a (blind) man and his guide dog off the flight.  I didn’t catch the entire reason, but it was something about the dog being beside his feet and not under the seat.  Apparently the dog’s owner was asked to correctly position his dog and rather than do that, he offered up a fuss.  Drama ensued.

Not an hour after hearing that story, I boarded a flight and ended up across the aisle from a guy with a dog.  We both had empty seats beside us.  This guy’s dog was not under the seat or even beside his feet.  This dog had freedom, and its own seat.  A window seat at that.  There were people on the plane who would have killed (a dog) for that seat.  The seat was the dog’s domain to curl up, sit up, and with front paws on the windowsill, stand up and  look out at the 37,000 foot view.  I wondered what the dog was thinking as it stared into the whiteness.  The guy didn’t pay for his four-legged companion’s seat.  It just happened to be empty.  The dog hopped up and received a complementary upgrade.  I wasn’t complaining because the dog left the window shade up.

When the guy got up to use the lavatory, the dog marched up the aisle behind him and into the lav.  When the meal came, it stared down at the owners dish until it was tossed various bits of each portion which it expertly caught in midair.

In the home I was never a fan of animals on the furniture.  Most animals, dogs especially, shed and are dirty.  Their paws, like the bottoms of our shoes, walk over residue we wouldn’t want want to sit on.  Most people don’t like the bottoms of peoples shoes on their furniture.  Paws of animals are the same.  Add to that, when animals sit, there is nothing covering their backsides.  Unless their owners do, they don’t clean their rear-ends after they eliminate.  I haven’t read the study yet about their elimination process leaving that area clean and bacteria free.

During the flight, the dog and I traded stares several times while the owner slept.  I could see in its eye’s reflection and whisker twitch that it knew I knew it shouldn’t be squatting on a coveted window seat.  Nevertheless, it stared back at me as if to say, “go ahead, try to do something.”  I could only look away as the dog won the stare-down each time.

This dog was no service guide dog.  It was a pet, along for the trip to South America, sitting in a business class window seat while its owner lay back listening to whatever was coming out of his bose headphones.  Maybe he knew the flight crew.  What could have been the difference between this dog roaming free on the plane and the dog and owner who was evicted from a flight in the CNN story?  It may have been because the CNN dog snuck into the aisle for take off.

If dog is man’s best friend, then he must be flight crew’s best friend, or not.  My best friend would not put his shoes on my furniture, let alone his unprotected back-side.

If dogs can roam on a plane, what about other animals?  I was on a domestic flight inside Pakistan years ago with chickens onboard.  They were not running around but they had plenty to say about being there.  But service dogs or not, if guidelines on planes for animals aren’t enforced, the drama door stays open. Public transport would become like getting on an Indian rail car.  If you let one dog lie in the aisle, you’d better be prepared to let others do the same.  We could let the airlines off the hook by requiring them to hang a little yellow sign at the boarding door reading “free roaming dogs on board.”

If I’m lucky, I might receive another complimentary upgrade on the return flight.  Maybe I’ll get the dog’s seat.  Odds are, there won’t be another dog in the same row.  Not that I’m a clean freak or bacteria fanatic, but I’m hoping they will have had the seat cleaned by then.  If not, I’ll latch onto the windowsill, content to be mesmerized by the view, thinking of the dog who stared me down, and coaxing someone to toss me some scraps.  I know I’ll catch them in midair.

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