Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence Salt Lake City
Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Allergic Passenger Versus Animal: Did a Cat Really Get Priority Over a Human Passenger?

Lewis Reckline is severely allergic to cats — so when his eyes began to water and his throat became scratchy aboard an airplane operated by Delta Air Lines prior to departure from Atlanta to Oklahoma City, he and his wife Jackie called for the attention of a member of the flight crew.

Allergic Passenger Versus Animal: Did a Cat Really Get Priority Over a Human Passenger?

A woman had apparently boarded with her two cats. Mr. Reckline started experiencing the symptoms of his allergies within only minutes after boarding the airplane, which ultimately forced the Reckline family to change their travel plans: Mr. Reckline stayed overnight to travel separated from his family on a different flight; and that concerned his wife.

“At the moment, it wasn’t taken seriously with any regard,” said Jackie Reckline, according to this article written by Wendy Corona of WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta. “The flight crew was going above and beyond to accommodate the cats and not accomodate a human condition.”

The Reckline family were assigned seats in the first class cabin. Publicly unknown at this time is in which cabin the female passenger with the cats was assigned to be seated.

Mrs. Reckline also stated that “If we were together in the air for three hours, he would certainly go into anaphylactic shock.”

Delta Air Lines issued the following statement to the media:

The comfort and safety of every customer who flies Delta is our top priority and we work hard to ensure those with allergies are well taken care of. We have reached out directly to this customer to better understand his and his family’s experience and apologize for the inconvenience this situation may have caused.

Headlines from different media sources and weblogs eventually screamed out about how Delta Air Lines prioritizes cats over human beings aboard its airplanes — but the truth of the matter is that the entire situation could have easily been prevented.

What to Do

What you can do to prevent what happened to the Reckline family from happening to you pertains to many airlines and not solely Delta Air Lines.

“There is only one little area when you’re booking your flights for you to note if you have any special considerations. It’s that little bar that says special requests,” Jackie Reckline said in the aforementioned article, as the family acknowledged that it admittedly did not follow proper procedure when booking their flight reservations.

If you plan on being a passenger aboard an airplane and you have a severe allergy — or some other personal information about which you believe that employees of the airline should know — you can also call in advance of your flights to ensure that no one is put in danger.

Social media accounts — such as Twitter, for example — can also be used to successfully inform employees of the airline of any special requests which you may have.

Official Policies of Airlines in the United States

A commercial airline is permitted to require a passenger traveling with an emotional support animal provide written documentation that the animal is an emotional support animal — unlike for a service animal. A fee does not apply to service animals of passengers with disabilities — not even on airlines such as Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, which are known for their proliferation of ancillary fees.

Here is a list of airlines with links to their official policies pertaining to the transportation of animals:


I assume that the owner of the cats legitimately paid to have them travel with her and that she did not attempt to pass them off as emotional support animals — but the comments section of this article titled Support Animals Versus Allergies: Here We Go Again has been rather active with supporters of both sides of this issue…

…and could there be a possible solution to people with allergies versus animals aboard airplanes, according to this article which I wrote earlier this year?

In the meantime, what should members of a flight crew do if they are faced with a passenger with animals versus a passenger who has severe allergies? Is there any scenario in which the animal wins out over the allergic human being? Should someone suffer if he or she did not take the proper precautions — especially if the situation could be life-threatening?

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

  1. As someone who has severe allergies, this guy is an idiot. Once a small space like a plane is full of pet dander you aren’t going to remove it just by removing the animal. The plane would likely need to be cleaned if his reaction was that severe. So if it were me I would leave the flight voluntarily rather than risk needing an epi pen in the air. It isn’t an issue of priority. It’s practically.

    1. Think about passengers that have many cats at home. Cat hair sticks all over their clothing and luggage and that passenger now travels without their pets. Should airlines start swiping passengers before they board to ensure the aircraft is 100% dander free due to the chance there is an extream allergic passenger on board?

  2. “I assume that the owner of the cats legitimately paid to have them travel with her and that she did not attempt to pass them off as emotional support animals ”

    Why do you assume this? Just curious. This is new territory. Maybe we need more data. This assumption defines the entire point.

    1. My assumption is based on that if the cats were emotional support animals, colleen, the media would have already been all over that.

  3. How does someone with that kind serious allergic reaction even leave their house without an airtight bubble suit? Here in Hawaii the feral cat populations nearly out number the human population. Forget the plane he could not even go on a hike here without having a reaction.
    What are the chances even if there was not a cat in the cabin while he was on board he would not had a reaction regardless? At some point there was an animal (pet, service or police dog) on that plane or even within your hotel room. Do you seriously think every plane and every room is completely sanitized removing all dander, of course not. Housekeepers are so rushed and under pressure they do minimal fast cleaning, to include using the same towel to wipe your toilet, floors, shower, sink, cups etc. Most bed covers are not even changed and for sure they don’t change the decorative pillows and/or covers.
    There is no benefit for airlines to fight against the law and doctors by not allowing medical prescribed animals on board. Chances are a working dogs already searched your aircraft and baggage regardless of the rules. Most importantly why would airlines want to fight it? Fighting it would be a complete loss. Hands down there are more animal lover compared to # of passengers with serious allergic reaction. If you owned a business and had to choose which group to cut which would you choose? Cut the legally protected group, thousands of people with pets, emotional support, service and working animals or the handful of people with extreme serious allergic reaction with no legal rights?
    Just the simple fact that airlines sales increased because people are able to travel with their pets is a huge win for airlines. Just look around in your everyday life, everything around us is inspired by pets. TV commercials, ads, more and more shops & restaurants are becoming dog friendly and welcome your pets because pets = money for any business. Many restaurants even have special pet menu. I stayed even stayed at hotels before that served my dog dinner on a silver platter. Even Starbucks has a puppuccino on their secret menu.

    1. Chris- I too have severe allergic reaction to cats. In my 50 years on this planet, I have managed to stay away from cats and live – including more than two dozen trips to the main four tourist islands oh Hawaii. I choose to stay in hotels that don’t allow pets (more than 100 nights/year for the past 20 years) and have never had a problem. I also fly more than 100K miles/year and if I ever sat next to a person with a cat, I would ask them to be moved (unless somehow they had better status than me – I am usually sitting in the better seat)
      Yes despite your illogical post abut the importance of house pets in some people’s lives, the Courts have ruled that Human life is more important than pets.
      Just try to bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into a school today and you’ll see what I mean

  4. “of course children who have nut allergies need to be protected, of course. We have to segregate their food from nuts, Have their medication available at all times, and anybody who manufactures or serves food needs to be aware of deadly nut allergies, of course, but maybe… Maybe if touching a nut kills you, you’re supposed to die.”

    -Louis CK

    Get it?

  5. I was really worried about what the comments would be like, but looks like 9 for the cats, 0 for the humans.
    My vote will make it 10.

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