What’s up with all the emotional support animals on planes?

Flying is often stressful, anyone who has flown can tell you this. It’s more stressful for some folks who have a fear of flying (or other phobias), and less stressful for others. A recent New York Times article even outlines 5 strategies for stress-free travel.

People have traveled with pets for years, but usually just dogs and cats and they typically travel in a crate in the cargo hold. Some people with physical disabilities are allowed to fly with certified and trained service animals, like a seeing eye dog. These people have legitimate needs for their support animals to fly with them and airlines have procedures in place for this, here are a few examples from American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines .  But it’s the more recent trend of bringing literally any type of animal on a flight for “emotional support” that is making a mockery of the system.

A story in BestLife lists 30 actual examples of exotic or downright strange animals people tried to bring on a flight in the name of emotional support.

Most were strange choices, but at least some were small enough to fly (squirrels, hedgehogs, hamsters). Some (horses, goats) were way too big, and some (snakes, tarantulas) were just downright odd and creepy.

A sure sign that any media story has reached ridiculous levels is when businesses try to take advantage of it to market themselves. A perfect example is the recent promotion from Popeye’s, the fried chicken restaurant chain. They have created a box of their fried chicken that actually looks like a chicken with a big label on the side that says “Emotional Support Chicken”. While this seems like a clever marketing ploy it has a few problems. The most obvious is that it encourages people to bring very smelly food on their flight which might annoy anyone within nose range. Another problem was highlighted by PETA. While PETA can be accused of not having a sense of humor, they do make a valid point about our factory farms and how chickens and other animals raised for food are treated poorly. They also make another valid point that some people really do have emotional issues that should not be mocked.

We can all agree that mental illness is a very real and serious issue, but it’s doubtful that letting people bring all sorts of animals with them into the airplane cabin is the right way to deal with it.  Perhaps the best option is to ban all non-certified support animals from flights but encourage more airports to have therapy dogs make the rounds in terminals for passengers to pet and enjoy, like they’re doing in Denver, LA, and many other airports. Petting a friendly dog before you board your flight is a great way to combat stress and it would absolutely make air travel a bit less “ruff”.