OPINION By Damon Cline The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist Damon Cline applauds or rather, encourages a crackdown on pets flying the friendly skies.
The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
As I write this, I am less than 36 hours from boarding a plane for a cross-country trip.
Ordinarily, my biggest concern is being seated next to a shrieking infant, an intoxicated blowhard or a stout individual who occupies every cubic inch of their seat space and part of mine.
But these days I worry more about sharing cramped quarters at 30,000 feet with someone's Chihuahua. Or pig. Or peacock.
It's no secret more travelers are bringing animals into the cabin. Everyone's pet, it seems, has become an "emotional support animal" ever since the flying public realized they can elude anywhere from $75 to $200 in airline fees by claiming their pet is vital to their mental health.
Dogs, cats, monkeys, turkeys, rodents, spiders, snakes -- all have been brought on board by passengers in recent years who said the animal's presence was medically necessary.
While many animals are a legitimate part of their owner's therapy, I believe the bulk of these creatures belong to people who are simply cheap and inconsiderate.
Airlines apparently think so, too, which is why some have pushed back against fliers who are clearly abusing the system.
On March 1, Delta Air Lines instituted a new policy that requires people traveling with an on-board pet to have a letter drafted and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional. Travelers also need to provide proof of vaccinations 48 hours in advance and sign a document confirming their animal can behave without a kennel in the cabin. Other airlines, including United and American Airlines, have instituted similar measures.
I, for one, applaud the crackdown. If we don't tolerate people acting like animals on airplanes, why must we tolerate actual animals that don't legitimately need to be in the cabin?
There would be no issue if most of those who pulled the emotional-support card been more attuned to the emotions of the humans around them. More than a few pet owners have allowed their emotional support animals to urinate and defecate on the floor, run up and down the aisle Westminster-style and even lunge at and bite other travelers.
Delta said animal incidents on flights have increased 84 percent during the past two years alone. Last year a Delta passenger's emotional support animal bit a fellow traveler in the face while boarding an Atlanta-to-San Diego flight. The fact the dog belonged to a U.S. Marine doesn't diminish the incident's severity.
Must the flight attendant's pre-departure script remind passengers that Noah's Airlines has a "no biting" policy? An Augusta Regional Airport spokeswoman said she was unaware of any animal incidents on local flights. She said most animals boarding local flights appear to be dogs helping veterans with post-traumatic stress issues -- not surprising given the metro area's large military population.
Lest I infuriate any rabid (sorry, couldn't resist) animal lovers out there, let me point out that emotional support animals -- sometimes called "comfort animals" or "therapy animals" -- are not "service animals" under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Service animals aren't just "pets." They are working animals, mostly dogs but sometimes miniature horses, that actually perform tasks for their disabled owners. They are eyes for the blind, ears for the deaf and early-warning alerts for those with autism.
In other words, ordering a "service animal" vest off the internet doesn't make Fido bonafide.
Let me be clear: I have absolutely no problem breathing the same cabin air as legitimate service animals. And I'll give the benefit of the doubt to someone whose anxiety or depression requires them to tote around a Bichon Frise.
But what I can't abide by is some selfish chowder-head trying to pass off Spike as an emotional support iguana to dodge the rules and evade some fees. Same for the bubble-wrapped millennial who can't bear to have Princess ride in the cargo hold (which, by the way, has the same climate control as the space above it) for a couple of hours.
I can imagine some of these travelers are the same entitlement-oozing folks using grandma's handicap tag to get a convenient parking spot. Such people are fully deserving of every comeuppance life sends their way.
Being a lover of animals does not make you are a good person. Even Hitler loved Blondi.