01 FEB 2018: Frequent fliers will likely tell you that their favourite travel companion is an empty seat. In recent years however that ‘Chatty Cathy’ in the next seat might look a whole lot better than the menagerie of so-called ‘emotional support animals’ that have slowly been infesting the airways.

I’ve only encountered it once myself: On a New York to LAX flight the woman in the seat next to me spent the entire trip stroking and, “Woogie, woogie - who’s mommy’s baby” talking to the Siamese cat in her lap. It was purgatory!

Well, Noah might have disapproved but last week Delta decided enough is enough. The Atlanta-based carrier announced it is taking a stand against the escalating abuses that, over the last four years, have spurred a 150 percent increase in the number of (alleged) support animals they have carried.  The Air Carrier Access Act dictates that, like service animals, ‘emotional support animals’ must be transported free of charge, so the sudden surge in so many bizarre types of comfort animals, is largely driven by subterfuges to avoid paying the $125 - $300 fees for transporting a non-service pet.

Here’s Delta’s list of taboo animals, but as you read it just think, when would you ever have dreamed that someone would have to tell airline passengers that they couldn’t bring their snakes or goats on board – and for free! The banned list reads:

•    Hedgehogs
•    Ferrets
•    Insects
•    Rodents
•    Snakes
•    Spiders
•    Sugar gliders (a type of possum)
•    Reptiles
•    Amphibians
•    Goats
•    Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, & birds of prey)
•    Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor
 
Then last and certainly not least, Delta passengers can take added comfort in knowing that they will not be seated next to …

•    Animals with tusks, horns or hooves

Despite this list, in the last 12 months, Delta’s passengers and crews have had to put up with an 84 percent increase in the incidence of scratching, biting, growling and other disturbances brought about by untrained animals. Needless to say the airline’s cleaning costs have also increased thanks to the irregular airborne ‘doings’ of often highly discomforted comfort animals.

Thank goodness some carriers still have a grip on reality. At Porter and Air Canada the rules could not be more straightforward, simply stated they only accept dogs as “emotional support or psychiatric service animals”. AC has even taken flack for its unwillingness to flex the rules, once refusing to permit a PTSD-suffering army veteran from bringing her support cat on board as a service animal.

Over at WestJet however, cats are not a problem, in fact the policy authorizes what is almost a veritable petting zoo, stating:

“Qualified individuals with a disability may bring emotional support dogs, cats, miniature horses, pigs and monkeys on flights to or from most destinations … Other ‘unusual animals’ (with the exception of snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders which are not permitted as they pose a safety and/or public health concerns) may be accepted as an emotional support animal on a case-by-case basis.”

Miniature horses! I assure you, I did not make that up – Check it out on the website.

I mean, come on guys! You get on the passenger in 12A for trying to sneak a wheelie on board that’s a tad too big: Meanwhile the dude in 12B has a (not so) miniature horse in his lap – and its wearing a cute little coat that says, “Do Not Touch”!  

horse

You might want to consider Delta’s “no hooves” mandate.

At United, other than saying that, “Service animals ‘in-training’ are not acceptable” and banning rodents, reptiles, snakes and ferrets, the airline fails to specify exactly which animals are acceptable. Based on the “in-training” prohibition, one has to presume that a fully trained orangutan would be acceptable. Indeed it has to be said that such a creature might blend in well with some of uniformed apes that have been seen dragging passengers from United flights in recent times.

American Airlines states that service animals “are welcome at no charge if they meet the requirements” but fails to itemize what exactly the ‘requirements’ are. They do however provide a downloadable form where, “Animal type” has to be entered and presumably someone at AA will veto any non-prerequisite species.

So back at Delta, the airline’s new policy kicks in on March 1st and while the general rule is that animals (not on the banished list) other than cats and dogs will be accommodated on a case-by-case basis, passengers will now have to show proof of the animal’s health and vaccinations two days ahead of travel. They must also provide a signed document, “Confirming that their animal can behave” – which is of course very, very different to confirming that the animal “will” behave!

If only Michael Jackson and Bubbles the chimp had known what they were starting! In my humble opinion though, the perfect and only permissible support animal would be a snail – properly housed in its own box of course.

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David Tait

David Tait's insight and irrepressible humour give us an insider's take on the airlines and the industry in general. He doesn't pull his punches, and readers find his columns thoughtful, informative, amusing and infuriating – regardless, David's views on our industry are always original. 

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