Airline passengers may soon have to leave their therapy pigs and turkeys at home

Squeals up!
Squeals up!
Image: Reuters/Edgard Garrido
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Unless it’s between two slices of bread, your comfort turkey may soon be forbidden on US flights.

Airline representatives, advocates for the disabled, and support-and-service animal groups are meeting near Washington, DC, on Friday to hash out a set of rules for bringing a variety of fauna on board.

At issue is the broad definition of service animal, which is currently described by the Air Carrier Access Act (pdf) as almost any animal trained or able to assist a person with a disability, or to be necessary for a passenger’s emotional well-being—as long as they are not “unusual animals” like snakes and other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders.

Animals have shown to be very effective at relieving stress, which can run high during or before a flight. The argument is so compelling that Los Angeles International Airport allows passengers a chance to play with one of the more than 50 dogs that participate in its Pets Unstressing Passengers, or PUP, program.

Passengers have been bringing in a variety of animals on board as emotional support or comfort animals, including dogs, cats, large pigs, turtles, and monkeys. A woman recently brought an emotional support turkey named Easter to comfort her on a flight as she travelled to spread her husband’s ashes, Inside Edition reported earlier this year.

But despite the proven therapeutic benefits, bringing animals on board comes with side effects, from irritating allergy-stricken passengers to space constraints on board. The ease with which passengers can gain approval for their furry or feathered support animal can lead to fraud since it’s an easy way to get out of regular airline animal-transport fees.

Among the questions to be discussed (pdf) at Friday’s meeting is which animals will be permitted. Both advocates for the disabled and airlines recently agreed that dogs, capuchin monkeys (if kept in a the carrier) and in certain cases, miniature horses could be allowed. The jury is still out on cats.

So if you’re thinking about bringing your emotional support animal on your next vacation, now is the time.