You can’t fly with a full-sized bottle of shampoo, but you can snuggle up with your pet pig. Don’t have a pet pig? Borrow one. CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg did just that when investigating the nuances of registering Emotional Support Animals (ESA). Passengers who can prove that their animal—be it pug, turkey or pig—is necessary for their mental health can fly with them in the cabin, regardless of size or ridiculousness.
All that’s necessary to board the plane with any animal you deem important to your well-being is a letter from a mental health professional, which Peter says was easily obtained online with no actual doctor visit. “We wanted to find out how easy it was to pass an animal off as a support animal, so we had an intern borrow a pig and use an online service to get a mental health letter. With his $150 letter in hand he boarded the plane with a four-month-old potbellied pig named Valley.”
Some airline passengers take advantage of a law meant to protect the disabled, says Greenberg. Many want to avoid the fee for flying with a pet (it’s cheaper to get an ESA certification letter than to pay for your pet each time you fly) or bring an animal that would not otherwise be allowed in the cabin, like the woman who recently made news for flying with her twenty-five-pound turkey.
Though many animals are reportedly well- behaved on flights, a Delta attendant told us that he’s seen it all, and answered the question we’re all wondering. Yes, the biggest problem is “number two.” Not only are the animals relieving themselves in the cabin, passengers expect the flight attendants to clean it.
A close look at various airline policies reveals that almost any animal can be declared “necessary for mental health.” They do draw the line at snakes however, so that’s comforting.
Flight attendant and author Heather Poole has seen it all. On a recent flight she complimented a passenger on her companion dog only to be told: “Don’t look at him, it makes him anxious.” Wonder what the policy is on support animals for support animals.
WHEN PIGS FLY
Hamlet, a seventy-pound potbellied pig flies with Megan Peabody. The passenger once battled anorexia, and says Hamlet is important to her recovery.
—KTNV, Action News
Jason Ellis, owner of Gizmo, a four-year-old marmoset, easily made it through security with the monkey on his shoulder. However, he neglected to let flight attendants know about his companion. They understandably became alarmed when they saw Gizmo peeking out of Ellis’ shirt mid-flight.
REINING IT IN
Blind passenger Dan Shaw traveled from Boston to Chicago with his seeing-eye miniature horse, Cuddles. Shaw chose a miniature horse as a guide animal because horses have much longer lifespans than dogs. Since Cuddles wouldn’t fit under the seat in coach, he, of course, flew first class.
When Jodie Smalley flew from Seattle to San Francisco to spread her husband’s ashes, Easter, her pet turkey, tagged along. Jodie said the turkey had been her support since her husband’s passing. Easter wore a custom diaper on the flight.
“With his $150 letter in hand he boarded the plane with a four-month-old potbellied pig named Valley.”
—Peter Greenberg, CBS News