Comfort Animals

I’ve had enough talking about delays, let’s move on to something else today.

There was a story that came out the other day about a guy who recently smuggled a monkey from Peru to New York, and it brought back a flood of memories.

No, it had nothing to do with my monkey smuggling days. We don’t talk about that anymore. It brought back memories of comfort pets. Now, this monkey was not legally allowed to be on the plane, but there are actually some cases where that is permitted.

When I worked at America West, I was in charge of keeping the contract of carriage updated. Usually, something urgent would come down the pipeline, and another workgroup would call me breathlessly asking me to change it yesterday. I usually just did it, but I always wanted to know what was behind the change first.

One time, I received a call saying that our seeing-eye dog policy had to be changed immediately because it couldn’t be limited to dogs. You can imagine my response:

Me: “Is this a joke?”
Them: “Believe it or not, other types of animals are becoming more common as seeing-eye pets.”
Me: “Like what?”
Them: “Ponies.”
Me: “Ponies?!? Where the hell do you put a pony? Tied to the lav door with a rope?”
Them: “No, these are little ponies that fit in the bulkhead.”
Me: “Uh, ok.”

CUDDLES 3I really didn’t believe this at the time, but sure enough I had a picture of a pony sitting in the bulkhead of another airline’s airplane in my inbox soon after. There is even a Guide Horse Foundation which helps place ponies with disabled people. As you can tell, these are some pretty small ponies, but wouldn’t you still be freaked out if you pulled up to your bulkhead seat and saw a pony staring you down?

And don’t think it stops with ponies. There are monkeys too. Apparently, people who do not have use of their arms have monkeys that act as substitute arms – feeding them, etc. So again, there you are in the bulkhead about to dig in to your meal when out pops Mr Peepers and he starts feeding his owner. I know, it’s absolutely ridiculous . . . they don’t serve meals anymore. But just pretend that they did, and you can see how this might be a bit uncomfortable for the rest of the row.

So, fine. I have no problem making that change if it’s the law, but there’s more.

Me: “Is that it?”
Them: “Not exactly. We also need to broaden the policy to allow comfort animals onboard.”
Me: “What the hell is a comfort animal?”
Them: “It’s an animal that people need to fly with for psychological purposes. They have a calming purpose.”
Me: “What the f***?!?! Ok, I’ll be sure to tell my friends to declare their St Bernard a comfort pet next time they fly so they don’t have to check him.”
Them: “This is serious. There are doctor’s notes coming along with these animals. And it’s not just dogs. People have ferrets, rabbits, gerbils, etc.”
Me: “Is this a crank call?”

07_08_10 comfortbearSure enough, we heard stories about people who claimed all kinds of psychological stress issues, and they had to bring their animal with them to keep them calm. At first, it seemed completely ridiculous, but then I figured that would give me my excuse for bringing Mr Icey, my pet polar bear onboard. As you can see at right, I got a doctor’s note saying I needed my comfort polar bear with me on all future flights.

Of course, there were some problems with this plan (the whole thing, not just the polar bear). Soon after that phone call, it became headline news when someone’s 300 pound comfort pig freaked out on landing (on another airline), ran all over the place, cornered a flight attendant, and relieved itself in the forward galley. SOOooiee!

So, what happened in the end? Well, we did make the change, but I don’t know if it ever got put to use . . . other than Mr Icey of course.

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