I can be cold, cynical and unfeeling, but I can’t be the only one who finds this story unbelievable.
The day before Thanksgiving, a woman and her pig were removed from a USAirways flight departing Hartford, CT. The woman claimed that the eighty-pound pig, which she ‘tethered’ to the seat armrest while she stowed the rest of her carry-on luggage, was an ‘emotional support animal’.
Apparently, before the flight had even left the gate, the pig became incontinent and managed to free itself, running up and down the aisle of the plane. Undoubtedly not to the delight of the other passengers.
The 29-year-old woman, reportedly ‘left devastated by the airline’s actions’, is described as ‘an aspiring actress and model’ and, I am sorry to say, was traveling home to visit her family, not in Hooterville, but in South Carolina. Thanks honey, the South doesn’t have enough image problems without freeloading yahoos trying to fly their pigs home for Thanksgiving dinner.
While the DOT ruled in 2003 that “animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support” qualify as service animals, they left it up to airline personnel to determine whether an animal is a service animal by seeking “credible verbal assurances,” looking for physical indicators on the animal, such as a backup or identification tag, or by requesting documentation for service animals. I have never thought of pigs as being particularly emotional or supportive animals and there appear to be no reasonable guidelines preventing what looks like blatant abuse of this policy.
What licensed mental health professional provides a certificate stating that their patient must travel with an eighty-pound pig? Dr. Oscar Mayer?
USAirways’ official policy (since I want to give everyone an even break) requires that you ‘provide documentation on letterhead dated within 1 year of the scheduled initial flight date from a licensed mental health professional or a medical doctor specifically treating your mental or emotional disability stating that you require the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at your destination.’
It has not been reported whether this woman actually supplied any documentation, and what USAirways unfortunately left out of their policy was any restriction on size or species, which opens wide the door to the lunatic fringe and the free riders. Is it surprising that ’emotional support animals’ have become increasingly popular in the years since the DOT policy update, since you have to actually pay the airline to bring your ‘unsupportive’ pet onboard?
I hope that due to international coverage and their ongoing merger with American Airlines, that policy will quickly change to AA’s more reasonable ‘If a service animal is disruptive or too large to fit under the seat or at the passenger’s feet without encroaching on another passenger’s space or protruding into the aisle, it will need to travel in a kennel (provided by the passenger) in the cargo hold.’
I can live with that. And I hope that the ‘activity at (her) destination’, stated as Thanksgiving dinner, didn’t involve coleslaw and barbecue sauce.
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