Devising new ways of bringing pets aboard aircraft is occupying many creative minds as the Christmas holiday season approaches. Pigs, dogs, monkeys and horses are taking to the skies.
Most airlines insist that animals be carried in crates separately from passengers, with an exception made for a guide dog accompanying a blind passenger. In America, however, a loophole exists – the Air Carrier Access Act, which states that animals may be brought aboard if they are deemed “necessary” to the emotional well-being of the owner.
“Originally meant for those who could barely function without the support of an animal, it is now broadly used by people who enjoy the comfort of their pets,” a report in the New York Post states.
Travellers are bringing cats, dogs and even miniature horses aboard. In the run-up to last Christmas, a woman brought an incontinent pig aboard a flight, saying she needed its company for emotional support.
Being forced to sit near a defecating pig was the last straw for passengers waiting for take-off aboard the US Airways flight at Bradley International Airport in Connecticut. The woman ended up being evicted from the flight and told to take her pig with her. See: Airline orders woman and incontinent pig off flight
More recently, Eric Lipp, executive director of Open Doors Organisation, a US advocacy group for people traveling with disabilities, told the New York Post of a traveller who flew with his miniature horse. As it didn’t fit comfortably in economy class, owner and pet horse were transferred to first class.
“The airline made the horse wear these little shoes so it didn’t scuff the plane, but it pooped all over and the other first-class travellers weren’t happy,” Lipp said.
Travellers with genuine disabilities are increasingly annoyed at the scams that allow able-bodied people to buy doctors’ letters on the internet to bring odd animals like parrots, weasels and monkeys aboard.
Lipp talks of “the Paris Hilton effect”, where people want to take their cute little dogs everywhere with them.
US airlines are caught in a tight place, because fines for refusing legitimate support animals can run as high as USD 150,000.
Fortunately for airlines, spiders, scorpions and reptiles were outlawed as emotional support animals in 2008.
A section from the US Federal Register in 2003, giving official advice to airline cabin crew on interpreting the rules, makes amusing reading, as follows:
- Certain unusual service animals pose unavoidable safety and/or public health concerns and airlines are not required to transport them. Snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders certainly fall within this category of animals.
- The release of such an animal in the aircraft cabin could result in a direct threat to the health or safety of passengers and crewmembers. For these reasons, airlines are not required to transport these types of service animals in the cabin, and carriage in the cargo hold will be in accordance with company policies on the carriage of animals generally.
- Other unusual animals such as miniature horses, pigs and monkeys should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Factors to consider are the animal’s size, weight, state and foreign country restrictions, and whether or not the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or cause a fundamental alteration (significant disruption) in the cabin service.
Written by Peter Needham