As more airlines scoff at the idea of emotional support animals and banish pets to cargo compartments, selfish air travelers remind us why.
Like a woman on a Delta flight en route to Atlanta last week, who grossed out fellow passengers by breastfeeding her cat. Flight attendants asked the woman to stop and place her cat back inside its carrier, as per FAA rules, but she refused.
That prompted the pilot to send a message ahead to the destination airport via ACARS, short for Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System:
The pilot asked for a ground team to meet the passenger aircraft upon landing. It’s not clear if the woman was prohibited from traveling on the airline in the future.
Regardless, as press reports note, Delta has been dealing with an 84 percent uptick in emotional support animal-related incidents, which comes amid a dramatic spike in general incidents aboard passenger jets. As of September, there were already three times as many incidents compared to the whole of 2019, and the FAA had handed out more than $1 million in fines, a CNN report noted. (Data for 2020 isn’t particularly useful as a point of comparison because air travel remained restricted for months due to the pandemic.)
It’s gotten so bad that flight attendants are quitting and airlines are worried about being unable to staff flights, as most don’t have enough attendants to provide a full crew complement as it is. And who can blame these flight attendants, who are already overworked and perform an often thankless job that should not include acting as law enforcement at 40,000 feet?
One flight attendant told the New York Times she feels like her and her colleagues are “like punching bags for the public,” while others say the job has become dehumanizing.
“What really hurts are the people who won’t even look at you in the eye,” she said. “I don’t even feel like a human anymore.”
Emotional support animals are supposed to be fairly rare and reserved for people with extreme anxiety. Instead, we’ve had a parade of assholes in the past few years demanding they be allowed to travel with “emotional support snakes” among other ridiculous companion animals. A Delta spokesperson said the airline had fielded demands from people with “comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders, and more.”
Then there’s “Flirty the Emotional Service Horse,” whose owner also maintains an Instagram page for the animal which informs visitors that Flirty prefers the gendered pronouns “she/her.”
What. An. Asshole.
Speaking not only as a cat caretaker, but one who is very attached to my little dude, did I like the idea of leaving him back in New York for almost a month when I went to Japan before the pandemic? No. Of course not. I missed him terribly.
Did I enjoy the 14-plus hours it took to fly to Haneda Airport? Of course not. On top of existing anxiety issues I can’t vape on a plane and I don’t like confined spaces.
But boo fucking hoo.
The rest of us just get on with it. We’re already pampered and accommodated beyond what we deserve in most circumstances. We should all have empathy, and we should all have respect for people who suffer from anxiety, but your right to comfort yourself ends at the point where I have to smell a horse’s ass for the six hours it takes to cross from New York to LA. Are passengers just supposed to endure it when the horse defecates? Is a single person’s comfort more important than the discomfort of entire rows of passengers surrounding her?
There are animal welfare issues here as well. No one should be allowed to take a wild animal on a passenger flight, and there’s a strong argument to be made that bringing a damn horse — or even a duck, for that matter — onto a flight is tantamount to animal abuse. Given the choice, those animals would not be there.
We live in an era of living indictments of the American education system who think the Constitution grants them the right to shit all over everyone else as long as it makes them feel good. There is no such right.
And the more that people abuse the privilege of taking an emotional support animal on a flight, the greater the chance that the people who genuinely need them will no longer be allowed the option.