Sunday, October 21, 2007


On a recent overnight flight from San Francisco to New York, one of my readers settled into his seat for the six-hour flight east. He figured that he'd be able to catch some sleep on his way home.

Boy, was he mistaken.

A few rows ahead of him, another passenger was settling into her seat. She had brought company: a carry-on bag containing her cat.

From the time they boarded, the cat began a frightened whine. At first, my reader writes, the other passengers made light-hearted comments such as, "Gee, that cat sure isn't happy." The stewardess stopped by to make sure that the cat was settling in.

"But soon after takeoff it was no longer cute to hear the crying of a caged animal," my reader writes.

There was nothing to be done, however. For six hours the cat whined, keeping him and other headphone-less passengers awake.

After the flight landed, my reader was determined to let the owner know that her cat had ruined his sleep, but she disembarked first and he lost the opportunity. He thought about saying something to the stewardess, but -- since he knew it was airline policy to allow cats on board -- he simply dragged his weary body on through the terminal.

Even if an airline allows cats onto its planes, he writes, isn't there "something unethical about bringing a loud, nocturnal creature on a long overnight flight?"

It's a loaded question. If the owner deliberately set out to destroy the evening's sleep of a planeload of passengers by bringing aboard a cat that she knew would be a nonstop mewling nuisance, her ethics could be called into question. And if she was deliberately inflicting pain upon her pet by stuffing it into a carry-on bag and lugging it along, her ethics would certainly be suspect.

It is highly unlikely, however, that the owner's intention was anything other than to get herself and her cat from San Francisco to New York, so it's difficult to see anything unethical in her bringing her nocturnal creature aboard.

My reader's question is loaded because it's based on the idea that the cat's owner created an inconvenience for him and other passengers. She certainly did, but not every inconvenience thrown into our aisle can be chalked up to an ethical lapse on the part of the thrower.

Was it thoughtless of the owner to bring her cat aboard, if she knew that the animal might whine all night? Perhaps. But she broke no rules, and her motivation doesn't appear to have been malice toward her fellow travelers.

Sure, this passenger's decision turned out not to be in the best interests of her fellow passengers. She might want to rethink how her cat travels in the future.

But the right thing for my reader to do is to recognize that, simply because something is an annoying inconvenience that causes us a sleepless night, that does not mean it's a big, furry ball of unethical behavior.

c.2007 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin,

Enjoyed your column about the cat on the NY-SF flight today. I've had some horror stories too.

Years ago when I was working in air defense I routinely flew from LAX to Logan Airport in Boston. Last week I saw the excellent and very entertaining movie "Why Did I Get Married" and remembered a flight I'd been on.

I usually took the red-eye and was almost the last passenger to get on board when I discovered a very wide woman sitting not only on her seat, but on half of mine. I had to get off the flight and wait until the next 6 AM flight to Boston.

Another time I was eating the in-flight dinner when the kid sitting between me and his mother threw up all over his food tray. The mother calmly handed me the tray and asked me to give it to the stewardess the next time she passed. I couldn't get up because my food tray was in the way, so ended up sitting there while my food got cold waiting for a stewardess to come by.

Most flights were okay, but there were enough unpleasant ones to make me glad I'm not traveling much anymore.

One of the best was when the top of a large water bottle in the storage compartment above me came off and I got drenched in the waterfall. The young lady sitting next to me, whose water bottle it was, didn't even apologize. In fact, she was rather upset because she wouldn't drink the water provided aboard the airplane.

If it would have been me on that flight, I think I would have tried to discover if cats can still land on their feet from 30,000 feet up.

Burl Estes
Mission Viejo, CA

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey Seglin,

When I read your column in the Columbus Dispatch yesterday, I couldn’t believe the sheer stupidity and insensitivity of your answer in regard to whether it is unethical to take a meowing cat onboard an airplane.

If a meowing cat is the only issue, I might agree. But it’s not. I am extremely allergic to cats. Even being around a person who has cat hair on his or her coat can trigger an allergic reaction. Being in direct contact with a cat can result in (at worst) my throat closing up, an inability to breathe, and the necessity to get to an emergency room quickly.

I can’t even imagine what with would be like during a six hour flight with no available medical help. Cat allergies are among the most common. It is so common, that all of my friends who are cat owners tell me that (to the person) they have encountered others who are allergic to their pets.

For you to write that “it is highly unlikely, however, that the owner’s intention was anything other than to get herself and her cat from San Francisco to New York, so it’s difficult to see anything unethical in her taking her creature aboard.”

This woman was not only unethical about the effect her little darling might have on her fellow passengers, she was also cheap. I have flown for more than 30 years as part of my job, and all of the airlines have arrangements to fly pets in the cargo area for a nominal fee.

Please do not give your readers the green-light to engage in such unethical and dangerous behavior. Bee sting allergies are common also – can you honestly say that allowing a bee-keeper to take a hive aboard an airplane with that knowledge is ethical as long as it is not done maliciously? The cat owner may not have had malice on her mind, but I suspect those people who drive drunk don’t either.

Thanks to you, I now feel that my health might be compromised every time I board a plane. Please let your readers know that taking pets into the cabin area of airplanes DOES have the potential to harm others.

Suzanne Kaszar
Worthington, OH