(CBS) — Just getting on an airplane can cause a full-blown medical crisis for some passengers. Bad reactions to animals on planes can be severe.
That includes service dogs and small family pets.
One man contacted CBS 2 investigative reporter Dave Savini, saying he is frustrated more is not being done to protect passengers. The frustration centers on where people are seated, especially when the airline knows about the medical issues.
Edward Holda can have a severe reaction when near dogs.
“It feels like someone’s pressing on my chest, you know, real hard,” he says. “My throat gets almost like it’s closing in.”
That’s how Holda started to feel when seated next to a black lab on a United Airlines flight last month. He had to use his rescue inhaler and said it was a serious situation. So, before the plane left the gate, he asked the flight attendant and gate agent to help him get a new seat far away from the pooch.
“I just couldn’t sit there,” he says. “It’s a 2 ½-hour flight.”
Holda says the flight attendants told him it was his job to find someone who would switch seats. He says more training should be given to better understand the severity of these types of allergies.
This is the third time Holda says this has happened in more than a year, and he is seeing more pets on planes. More than 2 million animals are transported on planes a year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation; that includes as cargo, too.
Holda flies weekly and says conditions are getting worse for allergy and asthma sufferers. His wife, Deborah, says there is no pre-booking or pre-boarding system in place to keep allergic, asthmatic passengers and animals apart.
“They have to accommodate people in these confined areas,” Deborah Holda says.
Dr. Anju Peters, an allergist with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, says passengers like Holda and animals should be kept far apart on planes.
“You are still exposed to it if the dog is in the seat front of you, seat behind you, even two or three seats ahead of you,” says Dr. Peters. “It could trigger off a bad asthma attack. And a bad asthma attack could cause a person to get really short of breath, coughing, wheezing, and potentially can be fatal.”
“I’ve seen them (airlines) accommodate a lot of other passengers for other things and other needs,” Holda says. “And it seems to me like they should have taken more of the initiative.”
Holda says he has nothing against pets or animals.
A United Airlines spokesman says they are reaching out to Holda to apologize and discuss this issue further. The spokesman also says gate agents will work to seat passengers as far away as possible from the pet onboard.
There are no real rules or great tracking of this issue. An old study found less than 3 percent of medical problems on planes were allergy-related.