Who said pigs can’t fly? Service-animal registrations are at an all-time high as helping aides in the form of monkeys and 160-pound bulldogs make their way onto airplanes with ease.
They say the Golden Age of air travel is over. But if your anxiety is assuaged by the soothing bleats of an emotional support goat, now is a magical time to fly.
…The zaniest anecdotes (like the “support pig” ejected from a D.C.-bound plane after it relieved itself in the aisle or the “therapy turkey” whisked via wheelchair onto a recent Delta flight) tend to go viral. But the habit has become particularly commonplace on the LAX-JFK route favored by fussy celebrities and industry execs. “Now I don’t even react when an agent tells me there are three support animals on board,” says Heather Poole, a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline. “I just pray they’re not too big — and that it’s a dog and not a goat.”
Registrations of service animals rose from about 2400 five years ago to over 20,000 last year.
Playboy’s February 1988 Playmate of the Month-turned-interior designer for Jessica Alba and Kristen Bell travels with a 160-pound bulldog. She says he whimpers and that tells her to take medication.
And lest you think the practice is relegated to mere mortals, think again: “I saw the actor that plays Superman, Henry Cavill, at the airport with his support dog,” she adds. “That was a little disappointing. He’s Superman.”
We have a really strange bifurcated system now where you have to pay ~ $150 each way to take a pet on board and they have to remain in a carrier throughout the flight. But call that same pet an emotional support ‘service animal’ and they can come out of the carrier and don’t cost anything.
The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 prohibits airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities, and thus they must make reasonable accommodations for them which allow them to fly — like having access to their emotional support animals. While in theory they don’t have to allow any animal that would be disruptive to the flight, there’s legal risk in a flight attendant or even captain making that decision on the spot. While the issue is under review at the Department of Transportation, there’s no firm rules or safe harbors for airlines to dispute a claim that an animal is necessary as a reasonable disability accommodation.
There are companies that sell registration of emotional support animals, but that doesn’t really get you anything, you still need that doctor’s note.
I’ve taken my Yorkshire Terrier on many flights, usually when visiting family, but he fits just fine under the seat and simply goes to sleep for most of the flight. He gets a thorough walk before and after, and I’ve tried to time flights with his usual nap times. Other passengers remark at the end of the flight when he comes out from underneath that they didn’t even know he was there.
Have emotional support animal claims gotten out of control? Are people taking advantage? What should be done about it?