Last week Delta Airlines announced that they will begin cracking down on "emotional support animals," which have become an increasingly common barking, farting, biting, and pissing-in-the-aisle hazard on flights around the world.
Unlike flying with, say, shampoo, so-called "emotional support animals" are not regulated by the FAA or any other governmental organization, and all you need to qualify is a letter from a therapist stating that your "emotional support animal" brings you emotional support (which is the literal definition of a pet). But, as of March 1, Delta will require that customers supply proof that their animal is healthy and vaccinated at least 48 hours before a flight, and owners will have to sign a statement that their animal can behave themselves on an airplane—which includes no barking, whining, and definitely no eating off tray tables. Delta will also be excluding several species of "emotional support animals" from their flights, including hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles, amphibians, goats, non-household birds, and animals with tusks, horns, and hooves, so you best leave the emotional support mule at home next time you fly.
Delta and other carriers have seen a huge spike in the use and abuse of flying with animals in recent years—in no small part because flying with a dog or other pet can be costly... unless it's a designated service or emotional support animal, in which case, it's free. As the Washington Post points out, airlines are bound by the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, "which allows free travel for 'any animal' that is trained to assist a person with a disability or that provides emotional support."
So how can you train Fluffy to become an emotional support animal? Actually, don't bother. There are plenty of places willing to sell you a letter from a therapist, no appointment or disability required. According to TherapyPet.org—an online service that provides the required letter from a therapist in 24 hours or less—"Essentially anybody who feels that their pet is a key source of comfort and well-being can qualify for an emotional support animal." So basically everyone.
Unlike services dogs, which can be trained to help the seeing-impaired navigate the world or to alert epileptics that a seizure is imminent or to help calm veterans suffering from PTSD, emotional support animals don't have to have any special qualifications or skills. They don't even have to be dogs. According to the Delta News blog, "customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more." The company, which says they fly nearly 250,000 service or support animals a year, has seen an 84 percent increase in animal incidents since just 2016, including, they say, "urination/defecation, biting and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog."
Service dogs don't bite. Pets do, which is exactly why they—as well as emotional support cats, emotional support snakes, emotional support parrots, and emotional support rodents—shouldn't be allowed on planes. While your emotional support mule might bring you comfort, you seatmate could very well be allergic to/scared of/disgusted by/annoyed with the animal in your lap. And while the pet industry, which brought in $66.75 billion in 2016, certainly wants you to believe that having an animal, if not taking it on planes, will make you a happier and healthier human, the evidence that animals are even good for us is far less clear, according to Hal Herzog, an expert on the field of human-animal interactions (and my personal dad). Herzog, who wrote the book on the weird and contradictory relationships we have with animals, says, "The public has a greatly exaggerated view of what we actually know about the impact of the benefits of therapy animals. There is good evidence that interacting with some animals can have short-term effects on relieving stress and increasing mood. The evidence of long-term effects is much less convincing." But, he adds, "The present system is completely unworkable and fraught with inconsistencies. My guess is the other airlines will jump on board."
Now, if only we can get restaurants to agree.