Bereft at 32,000 Feet

Without their emotional support animals, passengers face a turbulent future of air travel.


Cole Drozdek

Without their emotional support animals, passengers face a turbulent future of air travel.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have now reached our cruising altitude of 32,000 feet. The seatbelt sign is off and you are free to move about the cabin and interact with your emotional support animals.” 

Relish this sentence; you will never hear it again. 

At the close of what has been a singularly difficult year, the Department of Transportation dealt another blow to the American public when it announced that regulations around emotional support animals would be tightening in 2021. According to government experts, only specially-trained dogs count as emotional support animals when it comes to commercial air travel. 

The government, along with its airline allies, says that emotional support monkeys are “disruptive,” comfort hamsters are “unnecessary” and therapy pigs make other passengers “uncomfortable.” This attitude seems excessively uptight. Commercial airlines aren’t exactly known for being high-altitude oases, especially for those of us slumming it in coach, so why not embrace the madness and spice up the experience with an impromptu traveling zoo? The turkeys could play with the cats, the turtles could come out of their shells to interact with the hamsters and the miniature horses could give kids rides up and down the aisle. At least people would have something to post about their travel experience other than “flight delayed again, the kid behind me won’t stop kicking my seat, the snacks aren’t even free. Help.” 

It seems that a menagerie of flying comfort creatures could make for a particularly ingenious marketing campaign. If I were Southwest’s PR person and heard that there were penguins on board one of our flights, I would be all over that. Think of the possibilities!

Southwest: Bringing the Arctic to You.

From Atlanta to Antarctica and Everywhere in Between.

Play with a Penguin: Southwest Offers Animal Companions to First-Class Customers on Long-Haul Flights. 

Despite this marketing gold mine hitting airlines harder than an arctic storm, they seem to be resolutely against aviating animals. In 2018, United Airlines denied flight to a peacock named Dexter. This event has been brought back into the public consciousness in recent weeks, with the Anti-Animal party claiming that “The Dexter Incident” is a prime example of how this legislation has been a “long time coming” and will “improve the flight experience for all passengers” blah blah blah. Anyone with a memory span longer than a goldfish will know that this debacle isn’t even about Dexter; it’s just United being United. They refuse to let girls in leggings board their planes, so this is less about a peacock’s airworthiness and more about an airline that just likes to make things more contentious than necessary. 

I get it: this year has been tough. Airlines have been forced to furlough thousands of employees; their caterers have been reduced to selling snack mix to those who miss the taste of first-class; patience is wearing thin and the standard cheery demeanor is slipping. But if you were trapped in a pressurized flying cylinder wearing your N-95 mask, surrounded by hundreds of strangers who may or may not be carrying a deadly and highly contagious virus while trying to get to your holiday destination, would you not feel the need for an emotional support kangaroo to assuage your anxiety? It’s cheaper than flying with your therapist and airlines are all about economics these days, so this seems like a consideration to pass on to the big wigs. Let the CFOs run the numbers and make their spreadsheets, but you’ll see that a price can’t be put on emotional stability. 

Let’s get a hashtag trending and a Supreme Court case going because this insanity has got to be stopped. First they say we can’t bring our comfort honeybees on a plane and before you know it, they’ll be telling five-year-olds that teddy bears are strictly prohibited. Either hop on a private jet or the Pro-Animal bandwagon, because when it comes to United Airlines v. Dexter the Peacock, I see only one possible victor.