Flying with a Zoo is the New Normal

Written by Jill Chapin. Posted in Opinion, Travel & Leisure

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Published on December 02, 2017 with No Comments

A woman and her ’emotional support’ pig were removed from a US Airways flight out of Connecticut, November 2014. Photo by Rob Phelps

By Jill Chapin

December 2, 2017

On both my inbound and outbound flights over the holidays, a large dog sat on the floor next to and under me, without a leash or a cage.

You may recall when air travel was designed for the comfort and safety of passengers who had to pay for their ticket with money or miles. A mere decade ago, flights with animals were allowed in the cabin under strict conditions:

-only two pets in the cabin per flight

-a maximum weight being such that the pet must be able to fit in an airline approved carrier that must be stowed under the seat for the duration of the flight

-the pet had to have a paid ticket

No more. Now in our touchy-feely world, our government has decreed that, for a very small fee, people could get a certificate for their “emotional support animals”, forever allowing their pets to fly free, both in cost and in freedom from being tethered or caged.

I was told by a representative of one of our country’s largest airlines that there can now be up to fifteen animals in the cabin; if some are cats to which some passengers might be allergic, it would be those with allergies who would be asked to leave the plane and catch a later flight.

All one needs to get an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) certificate is for a licensed mental health professional to recommend one. But keep in mind that these animals require no special training, unlike Service Dogs who undergo extensive training to assist just one person. They are considered working dogs, such as those who service the blind.

It is nice and sweet for people with genuine issues to have a small supportive pet to keep them calm during flight. But here is what happens when too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing.

Lunacy has evolved since 2012 when the Department of Transportation began allowing ESA animals on planes and is now protected under the Air Carrier Access Act for in-cabin travel, of which airlines have virtually no say.

The following will come as a shock to those who believe that our laws adhere to common sense.

Per the Department of Transportation guidelines, pigs, monkeys, turkeys and miniature horses are among those animals deemed Emotional Support Animals. ESA dogs can be any breed, including Pit Bulls and Dobermans. You may even have more than one pet per passenger. On my outbound flight, the dog was a 45 pound Australian Sheepdog stretched out on the floor beneath me, and a smaller dog was in the owner’s lap next to me. I allowed the sheepdog on my floor space the entire time while my feet were up on the bulkhead wall because the dog was fifteen years old and breathing heavily and was more comfortable lying down than having to sit up for the entire flight.

The president of the Association for Professional Flight Attendants says that in many cases, the “comfort” animals are making passengers around them decidedly uncomfortable. Airlines already make passengers pay for extra leg room, snacks, and luggage. Now they are encroaching upon their space, their sense of smell and noise by allowing nearly unfettered access to board any animal deemed to be of emotional support.

Remember the good old days when we complained about crying babies? You’d probably now happily choose them over an oinking pig, squawking turkey, neighing pony, barking dog or mewling cat. And at least babies wear diapers for protection; a defecating, squealing pig that boarded a plane had to be escorted off with its owner for causing great distress for the rest of the passengers.

What bothers me most about this new arrangement is the airlines’ abandonment of their previous insistence that the floors be kept clear for safety reasons. A purse cannot lie on the floor during takeoff, but a large pig is apparently not a safety hazard in an emergency. When there is turbulence, we are instructed to buckle up, which happened on my recent flight sitting next to a large unrestrained dog. Why would our laws allow the possibility that that pet could have been sent flying across the cabin, injuring not only the dog but other passengers as well?

Airlines are blatantly hypocritical by saying they have strict safety standards when clearly they don’t regarding animals lying on the floor. Although this is a federal law, the airlines have a responsibility to at least speak up regarding the dangers created for passengers when trying to move in an emergency while having to negotiate around an animal.

To be fair, the animals on my flight were well behaved and their owners were kind and thoughtful. But they aren’t the ones who should ensure that we are not endangered when these animals are clearly compromising our safety. Airlines’ abdication of their once strict guidelines is just one more intolerable regulation that we are forced to endure in this new madness of air travel.

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin has been a guest writer and columnist in several Los Angeles area papers for over fifteen years. She has written a bilingual parenting book titled, "If You Have Kids, Then Be a Parent!" and a children's book entitled, "My Magic Bubble."

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