A few days ago, an airplane full of passengers was sitting on the tarmac in Orlando, Florida, waiting to take off. But there was a two-hour delay while the passengers had to deplane and the police were called.
This is not an uncommon event, but what made this situation unique was the reason it happened. It wasn’t a belligerent passenger, a switch that wouldn’t go off, or a door that wouldn’t close. It was a squirrel.
A woman had tried to bring the squirrel onto the plane, saying it was an emotional support animal (ESA). She had also apparently called ahead and advised the airline that she would be bringing an ESA on board, but she did not say it was a squirrel. The airline pointed to its policy, which states that the only ESA’s allowed on flights are dogs and cats.
It would be short-sighted to just blame this passenger. Assuming that she did call the airlines beforehand, it sounds like she was a victim of yet another miscommunication between airlines and passengers on this issue.
In addition, I wonder about the airline’s policy. Assuming we are talking ESA’s and not service animals, what is the rationale for allowing only cats and dogs on airplanes? Is there medical or psychiatric literature supporting the proposition that these are the only “legitimate” emotional support animals? If so, I have never heard about it.
All of this supports the ever-growing public chorus for airlines to be more specific about their criteria for allowing ESA’s on airplanes. The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently studying the issue and is expected to come out with new regulations in the future.
Let’s hope these regulations do more than just identify the animals that are “suitable” for boarding. It would be useful if they also clarified who is eligible to bring animals on board (people with disabilities), as well as required airlines to train their employees in how to manage both animals and the humans that travel with them.
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