You Don’t Want to Sit Next to My Pup On the Plane – Now What?

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

June 8, 2016

Paris Permenter, along with her husband, John Bigley, is the co-author of Texas with Dogs and the founder of

You and your pup are all settled in on the plane. You’ve tucked the carrier beneath the seat in front of you, you’re buckled in, and your pup is settled nicely.

The seat beside you is empty—and you remain hopeful. Will it stay empty? Miracles do happen.

A photo posted by @petsonplanes on

You watch as the procession of passengers comes down the aisle. Maybe you’ll get lucky and your seatmate will be a dog lover—or someone who plans to stay busy or sleep throughout the flight.

But what do you do if your seatmate doesn’t want to sit next to your dog? Whether due to a dislike of dogs or an allergy, incidents do occur where a flyer refuses to sit next to a passenger with a pet. What do you do if you’re in that situation?

If Your Seatmate is Allergic to Pets

In case your potential seatmate is allergic to pets, you’ll want them to know you’re traveling with a pet immediately. According to Mary-Alice Pomputius, author of Bone Voyage: Travel with Your Pet, “Help your neighbors by letting them know you’re traveling with a pet, so they can request to be re-seated before the boarding process is over.”

If your assigned seatmate is allergic, it’s time for a talk with the flight attendant. Sooner is always better. Stay pleasant, ring the call button, and see if the flight attendant can reseat one of you.

A photo posted by Erika Rodden (@elrodden) on

When Allergies Aren’t the Issue

Allergies are just one reason that your assigned seatmate might not like sharing the row with your pup. It’s hard to believe but—gasp—some people just don’t like dogs. To make the best of this situation, you’ll want to do everything possible to ensure that your furry fellow traveler stays unobtrusive.

Your work begins before you arrive at the airport.

We’ve all heard that “a tired dog is a good dog” so step one is to make sure your dog has enjoyed some physical activity before the stress of the airport and the flight. A good, long walk will help your dog relax during the flight (and it will help you be more relaxed during the long sedentary flight as well). If your dog is quiet and still, you’re less likely to hear any growling from your seatmate.

Board as soon as you can.

Your goal is to be seated and settled before your seatmates. Although that’s very difficult if you’re making a connection, whenever you can, try to board as soon as possible, whether that means paying a surcharge for early boarding or just forgoing that last-minute trip for a carry-on latte. Settle your dog then settle yourself. Get your dog’s carrier in place, give him some comforting words and a solid bellyscratch through the carrier—then sit back and try to relax. You might take off your shoes and place your bare foot beside the carrier to comfort your dog but, if you’re leaned back in your seat rather than doubled over to talk to your dog, you’re much less likely to irritate your neighbor.

Make friends with your seatmates.

Pomputius, who travels with her own Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Chloe and blogs about it on, advises, “Win your seatmates’ hearts by showing them a picture of your pet.  For your neighbor, knowing what your pup looks like along with the chatting that accompanies picture sharing, may buy you some tolerance if your pet whines later, or if your neighbor needs to step over her carrier to reach the aisle.”

Leave your dog in the carrier.

Yes, you’ve seen those photos on social media of dogs out of their carriers, sitting on their owner’s lap or in the adjacent seat. Sadly, many of those are owners are either breaking airline rules or have improperly claimed their dog as an emotional support animal. Airline rules are explicit: dogs must remain in their carriers.

A photo posted by Jimmy and Ollie (@misfit_pets) on

Handle accidents immediately.

It’s a fact of life: dog poop happens. If your dog has a potty accident in flight, apologize and excuse yourself and your dog (still in his carrier) for a quick trip to the restroom for cleanup. Upon return, apologize to your seatmates again (and, hey, an offer to buy a round of airplane drinks wouldn’t hurt either).

Handle barking immediately.

Barking should be treated much like a mother handles a crying baby. Immediately try to soothe your dog (have chews and toys on hand—not in your luggage in the overhead), apologize to your seatmates, and try to engage your seatmates a bit. Share your dog’s name (it’s harder to be mad at Penelope than “the barking Pomeranian beside me”) and ask your seatmate if he or she has any pets.


OK, you’ve done your best—your seatmate isn’t allergic, you’ve kept your dog quiet, but your seatmate is just plain unhappy. If the incident occurs on a plane that’s not full, you’re in luck. Whether you’re on the ground or airborne, you or your seatmate might have the option to locate to a vacant seat. But if the plane is full (as most are these days), the task is tougher. Here, once again, pre-planning pays off. If your seat is a desirable one—read: not a middle seat—it’s far more likely that someone will be willing to change seats with you and your dog.

A photo posted by Mochi (@mochi_dowgie) on

If your unhappy seatmate is putting up a fuss, you’ll probably have drawn the attention of nearby passengers. If you see any travelers who appear to be alone—especially ones marooned in that dreaded center seat, they’re prime candidates for a seat swap. Yes, you’ll then be wedged in the center seat, but you and your dog will be free of the unhappy traveler.

If you don’t see a good exit strategy, your next move is to call the flight attendant—or wait for your seatmate to do so. When the flight attendant arrives, smile, let the seatmate air her grievances about your dog, then smile again and ask if there’s any place that either your seatmate or you and your dog could move to remedy the situation.

Dealing with unhappy seatmates is, unfortunately, an occasional part of flying, whether you’re traveling with your dog or not. Working to help bring a resolution to make sure both you and the dissatisfied passenger remain happy can help ensure that those “friendly skies” remain Fido-friendly in the future!

A photo posted by @petsonplanes on

Written by: Dr. Katy Nelson

June 8, 2016