Guide dog endures 8 hour transatlantic flight squashed in footwell

A labrador guide dog is squashed between her owner's legs in the footwell of an airplane seat
(Image credit: Twitter)

A blind woman has criticised the Canadian airline WestJet after her dog was “squashed” into a cramped space onboard two transatlantic flights between the UK and Canada.

Chloe McBratney’s guide dog, a labrador named Emily, was forced to endure two long haul flights confined to a footwell. 

Speaking to the BBC, Ms McBratney explained: "Emily was at my feet the entire time, however for anyone travelling on a plane it's not enough space anyway, and to put a dog at your feet means even less space.”

McBratney, a goalkeeper coach at Barry Town United's pan-disability soccer team in South Wales, UK, said that she immediately felt concerned for her dog’s welfare after taking her seat on the plane to Canada from London: “[Emily] couldn't turn around properly, when I took her harness off I could tell by her demeanour that she just wasn't comfortable at all".

Ms McBratney and her pup were then placed in a similar seat for their return flight on Wednesday, August 24.

WestJet apologised, "for any confusion or inconvenience this guest experienced during their travel" but explained that special arrangements could not be made as there was a required advanced notice period of 48 hours.

"I booked my ticket five months ago and then rang the airline... I requested there and then for extra leg room," McBratney said. "It was an eight-hour flight, which for anybody is a really long time. It made it incredibly hard for both her and me as well."

McBratney, who had booked with a third party, was told that WestJet could only accommodate her if she cancelled her booking with said third party and re-booked a full-price ticket. Without doing this, there was nothing they could do in regards to her seating arrangement. 

Guide Dogs UK representative, John Welsman, has commented that it is a very “complex situation”, explaining that there are various regulations airlines must comply with and it is  "at the airline's discretion" if they provide additional space for guide dogs. 

He added: "But they do need to demonstrate that they have done due diligence in the booking process to show that they've gone through all the things they need to."

However, according to Welsman, "it's down to the airline what they think is adequate space for the dog when they are booking me on to the flight."

The Civil Aviation Authority explained that while there isn’t an obligation, “many airlines” will seat passengers with guide dogs in the front row wherever possible. 

WestJet further explained that "all guests travelling with service dogs provide us with at least 48 hours advance notice before their flight departs".

The company commented that unfortunately, the third party Ms McBratney’s flight was booked through did not contact them to notify them that special arrangements needed to be made, resulting in Ms McBratney's options being limited to "purchasing an additional seat or upgrading to a seat with additional leg room".

The case comes after another dog tragically lost its life on a flight from China to Canada, and sparks questions over airline regulations when it comes to animal treatment onboard long haul flights.