When Fluffy Flies First Class

Pets are great, aren’t they? They offer the companionship some crave, the unconditional love so rare in our human companions, and for a few the really tiny ones make for a great fashion accessory. We walk them, we feed them, we play with them and now, Southwest Airlines is allowing us to fly with them, right in the cabin. That is great, if it is your dog or cat, but I think that Southwest is forgetting one thing—the other passengers!

In a story on ChicagoBreakingNews.com, Julie Johnsson writes:

As of June 1, Southwest passengers will be able to purchase the right to bring small pets onboard flights for $75, each way, for travel that begins June 17.

Texas-based Southwest said it will allow a maximum of five pets on to any given flight. The cats and dogs must be small enough to travel comfortably in a leak-proof carry-on case that will fit under an airline seat.

Southwest also plans to outfit its airport terminals with areas where animals can relieve themselves. But it warned passengers on its Web site that these areas will likely be outside the security areas and that it won't hold flights for passengers who opt to take their pets on a potty break.

OK, never mind that the airline needs to increase its revenues; and never mind that you, the non-pet-owning traveler will be trapped in an aluminum tube with poor air circulation, thousands of feet in the air, traveling at hundreds of miles an hour for who knows how many hours, with a quintet of terrified lapdogs and adorable feline dander-spewing machines. For those with animal allergies, not to mention those who prefer a quiet flight that does not smell like a dog bed or a litter box, this is not a good combination. I am also sure that passing—and smelling—those promised airport relief areas will be a real pleasure before you board your kennel, er, flight.

Take the issue of allergies. Many people are allergic to animals. These allergies manifest in everything from hives to sneezing to profound respiratory distress. Are these people, who have dutifully paid their fare and expect a safe flight, going to be forced to endure allergy attacks, asthma and other health problems simply so the airline can collect an additional $375 on their flight? That seems to be the plan.

Also, will the airline guarantee that there will be no turbulence on the flight? Anyone who has seen a dog in the car knows they don’t enjoy potholes, sharp turns or anything else that shakes them up. Some bark their heads off; others get scared and have accidents or get sick. Any one of these, on top of the good jouncing everyone would get from the turbulence itself, will be such an added pleasure on the flight for staff and passengers alike! After all, it’s not as if you can roll down the window for fresh air.

I think you begin to see the potential problems here and the reason for pressurized cargo areas for pets.

The Bottom Line

I am not saying these things because I don’t like pets. I love animals! Cats, dogs, ferrets, turtles, birds, fish, rabbits, hamsters, chinchillas, gerbils—I’m all for them! I would love my house to be filled with animals. Notice, I said my house, not the cabin of the aircraft I am traveling aboard. They don’t belong there, and by putting them there—especially for such a trivial return—Southwest is really shooting itself in the foot.

A business cannot cater to one group of customers—in this case the pet-owners willing to pony-up the aforementioned $75—to the detriment of another group of customers—everyone else. When a business does follow this course, it leads to only one place—the courthouse steps. It will take one bad asthma attack and Southwest will be explaining its policy before a judge. “Well ya see, yerhonner, it’s this way: Without that extra $375, our airline’d be broke!” Then the gavel drops and the asthmatic plaintiff and his lawyer have a nice payday at Southwest’s expense. On top of that, said plaintiff would take their money and fly other carriers, recounting the tale of his asthma attack and how it resulted from Southwest’s silly pet policy.

That is the lesson here for Southwest and for every business owner. Your customers must all have a positive experience with your company. If you encourage a situation in which any portion of your clientele will be inconvenienced or actually damaged in some way for the benefit of another portion, you not only risk losing that segment of your customer base, you risk the kind of litigation and terrible publicity that could well put an end to your business.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Southwest. Stay tuned!