Airline v Dog: Holiday Edition

Society loves dogs and loves to hate on airlines. Welcome to a holiday travel story that never really stood a chance of going well.

The story begins at Washington, DC’s Reagan National Airport where Lachlan Markay and his dog Lou attempted to check in for their flights out of town on the July 4th holiday weekend. Lou was in a carrier, as required by the airline’s rules for pets traveling in the cabin. But Lou was also too big. The airline would not let Lou board. Markay turned to Twitter and his 73.4k followers to rage.

Another reporter called it fat shaming the dog while still other reporters piled on the bandwagon; some were eventually deleted.

The general public got in on the action as well. This would not be a relaxing Wednesday afternoon for American Airlines.

It took just over 20 minutes for American’s social media team to engage and defuse the situation online. Just over 90 minutes later Markay declared victory, claiming that “AA wisely decided to make an exception” to policy and allow the pet to fly.

It is unclear what about the decision was “wise” other than perhaps the implied threat of greater Twitter rage.

Markay even posted a photo of a larger dog on board while in flight, so as to prove his point. Not surprisingly, many responses to that tweet pointed out the dog pictured was larger than his that was (almost) denied boardig.

The Exception

Picking a fight is, generally speaking, bad news for all parties involved. Especially when it breaks open on social media and airlines are involved. American Airlines defused the situation by yielding to the bullying, but also took a relatively firm stance in a direct conversation with Markay.

American has policies in place to protect pets that travel on American Airlines. Our policy states on Pets must be able to stand up, turn around and lie down in a natural position in their kennel (without touching any side or the top of the container).

Lou was unable to comply with those requirements, which was reiterated to Mr. Markay. Lou’s weight was never the concern, but it was the size of the kennel.

We did make a one-time exception, however, our team reiterated that Mr. Markay will need to utilize a different kennel in the future.

Among other things, Markay’s initial claim that the dog was too heavy turns out to be false. Maybe it was miscommunication or misunderstanding at the counter. Maybe it was willful misrepresentation of the situation. Either way, the Twitter outrage built from a false initial claim.

And now that the airline engaged at a more senior level there’s not much of a chance for future exceptions. Did Markay win the battle but lose the war, so to speak?

The irony

The other, larger dog on board traveled as a service animal, not a pet. It is way too big to be a pet and still travel in the cabin as it could not fit in a kennel that fits under the seat. Almost no dogs are small enough for those dimensions.

That Markay tried to mostly follow the rules and pay to fly with his pet rather than cheat with it flagged as an emotional support animal becomes the irony of the situation. It is unlikely such a designation could be secured for the return flight given the advance notice American requires, though maybe a doctor is working on the holiday and will write the note. Which would be even more unfortunate.

With travel in cabin as a pet off the table and the breed not allowed as a checked animal a new plan needs to be hatched for Lou’s trip home to Washington, DC at the end of this holiday. Anyone placing bets on how they get back??

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.