According to the most recent study on the subject by the Travel Industry Association of America, in the three years preceding 2001, 30 million Americans traveled with animals. Now that more and more hotels and travel companies are welcoming pets, this figure is sure to grow. These new pet-friendly policies may be great for pet owners but are a major concern for allergy sufferers, according to the Virginia-based Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics. With more animals on the road and in the air, what's an allergic traveler to do?
A hotel that accepts pets usually maintains certain rooms in which animals are not allowed. Many of those properties have also instituted special housekeeping procedures targeting animal dander. Three Starwood brands—Westin, Sheraton, and W Hotels—have introduced air purifiers into animal-friendly rooms; Loews and others use HEPA-filter vacuums. The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago, goes one step further and will create "allergy-sensitive" rooms upon request. After cleaning, they outfit rooms with hypoallergenic fabrics and vent guards.
Airplanes pose additional complications for allergy sufferers, especially highly sensitive ones. Most airlines have strict limits on the number of pets allowed in the cabin at one time; on domestic flights it ranges from zero (Midwest) to seven (American). Since most animals require reservations, concerned passengers can call ahead to find out whether any pets will be on board, then arrange appropriate seating or another flight. But no airline can guarantee a cat- or puppy-free cabin. Service animals, such as seeing-eye dogs, don't need reservations; by law, they must be admitted on the aircraft. The FAA advises carriers to reseat or rebook people traveling with animals if a fellow passenger complains. (In the case of service animals, the allergic passenger may be asked to move.) The FAA also warns allergy-prone travelers that most irritants are carried aboard via clothing. So, even without pets, airplane cabins contain allergens.
Still, some agree with Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for the Humane Society of the United States, who says people should be wary about vacationing with pets. Says Shain: "If the dog is going to spend eighty percent of his time alone in a hotel room, he'd be much happier at home with a pet sitter."