Emotional support service animals are service animals that provide emotional support to an individual with a mental health related disability. On most airlines, documentation must be provided 48 hours before departure to permit emotional support animals to travel in the passenger cabin.
I’m all for emotional support animals on board when it comes to calming passengers who suffer from anxiety. What I have a problem with are passengers who bring their pets on board and then claim they are service animals in order to keep them on their laps. Don’t get me wrong, I like animals. I really do. I have one at home. His name is Gatsby and he’s a seventeen pound Maine Coon cat. But not everyone on the airplane gets excited about sitting next to the passenger who has a dog wearing a dress on their lap. A lot of people are allergic to pet dander, so it’s my job to remind passengers that their pets must remain inside their carriers during a flight. The only pets that are allowed out of the carrier (on my airline) are celebrity animals (for real) and service animals. That’s it. Case closed.
While doing a little research, I came across an interesting bit of information. “Did you know there are horses that are considered emotional support service animals?” I asked my mother who is also a flight attendant for the same airline I work for.
“Not horses. Small ponies,” she corrected. Before I could even comment, my mother who was now laughing said, “Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you call a couple airlines and tell them you’d like to bring a small horse on board in main cabin. See what they say.”
Yeah. Okay. Maybe later.
Recently during boarding on a flight from San Francisco to Chicago, I walked into the first class cabin and spotted something I could not believe. On top of a tiny petite woman sat the largest emotional support lap dog I’d ever seen. Shaggy and well-behaved, he was almost as big as the owner who did not have the proper paperwork to prove that the dog was in fact allowed out of its carrier. Oh sure the dog was cute, but half the cabin claimed to be allergic to it and no one wanted to sit by it. Finally, when it became apparent that we weren’t going to depart until the situation had been sorted out, a man reluctantly agreed to sit by the oversized, but very sweet, dog. Eventually an agent appeared who confirmed he had seen the dog’s paperwork, and then quickly he shut the aircraft door and waved goodbye.
Later on during the flight I pulled the beverage cart to the front of the cabin, and as I passed by a passenger, an adult man sitting in an aisle seat, I couldn’t help but notice a very large sock monkey he cradled in his arms. O-kay, I thought to myself. Then I wondered if maybe, just maybe, it was an emotional support sock monkey. Hey, ya never know. Finally when I got to his seat, I smiled, asked what he’d like to drink, and then tried to make small talk.
“Cute monkey,” I said, because it was kind of cute. It wore a flannel shirt, corduroy pants, and wire rim glasses just like the passenger. “He looks like you.”
The passenger held up the monkey and giggled, but it wasn’t a crazy giggle, not a I’m-a-grown-man-cradling-a-sock-monkey kind of giggle. It was just a regular old laugh. Still, I wanted to know more, so I asked, “Did you make his clothes?”
“She did,” he said, nodding to the woman sitting in the middle seat who was now looking at me and smiling brightly.
Back in the galley I told the crew about the man with the monkey, and as I did so I cradled my own imaginary monkey that I unknowingly began to pet. This alerted a few of my coworkers who exclaimed, “He’s petting it!”
“No!” I dropped the imaginary monkey on the floor.
“Just tell me he’s not spanking it?” asked the joker in our group.
I laughed. “He’s just holding it.”
“That’s okay,” said my colleague who then went on to tell me about the time she asked a passenger to put her cat back in its carrier, only to find out that the cat wasn’t real. It was stuffed. “It was breathing,” she exclaimed. “I kid you not, its little tummy went up and down.”
“A stuffed animal that breathes!” I asked. She nodded. I had never heard of such a thing.
As we pulled the pickup cart back up the aisle, I noticed the passenger with the monkey was not in his seat. I assumed he’d gone to the lav. What I found in his place surprised me. A big yellow banana sat straight up in the chair, right beside the monkey, and both had been buckled in tightly, which was good, I guess, considering the fasten seat belt sign was on.
When I told I told a friend about the monkey man, he seemed intrigued. Then he asked, “Do ya think if I dress it up I can bring an emotional support case of beer on board my next flight?”
Of course just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else happens. Take for instance the time I came upon a passenger and his fluffy little dog standing in line to use the lavatory. “Sir, I’m sorry, but your dog can’t be out of its carrier,” I told him.
“He has to use the bathroom.” It was said matter of fact.
“Oh. Okay,” I said, and then slowly walked away thinking, bathroom? How?
“Oh my goodness, how cute!” I heard a coworker shriek. I spun around and saw my coworker down on one knee petting the dog. When she stood up, she said, “He’s so adorable, but he needs to be in a carrier.”
Again, matter of fact, the passenger said, “He has to use the bathroom.”
“Oh. Okay,” she said, as if what he had just said were the most logical thing in the world. The two of us locked eyes and didn’t say a word.
When the man and the dog entered the lavatory, we, the crew, discussed the situation. None of us had a clue as to how the tiny dog could possibly use the toilet, so we weren’t exactly sure what to do. Finally I decided to take matters into my own hands and just ask. I was curious. We all were. When the two suspects exited the lav and returned to their seats, I followed. Turns out the passenger placed a special “wee wee” pad on the lavatory floor that he discarded after it was used.
“Oh. Okay,” I said, as if it all made perfect sense. Immediately I returned to the galley to report what I had learned and to discuss if that was…well…even allowed on board. I mean…well….forget it…just remember this story next time you go into the lav without your shoes on.
Now say hello to Shebang, a celebrity dog I’ve never met…
Photos courtesy of Miss Chienand Angie Hanshaw