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Friday, March 23 Living

Jim Shea: Animals and airplanes don’t always mix

The expression “when pigs fly” is usually meant to reference something that is never going to occur.

Except pigs do fly.

And they are not alone.

The friendly skies have become the all-too-frequent mode of transportation for an increasing number of “emotional-support” animals, ranging from your standard cats and dogs, to ducks, song birds, rabbits, snakes, rodents, the occasional peacock and, yes, pigs.

A few years ago, a woman was allowed to board a flight at Bradley International Airport with a medically approved 70-pound potbelly pig slung over her shoulder. The pig smelled, roamed, crapped, squealed and caused such a disruption that the woman and the pig voluntarily left the plane.

Another flight I read about included among the passengers a 300-pound pig, which was apparently well behaved.

Still, how would you like to battle a 300-pound pig for the armrest? And I’ll tell you this, if a 300-pound pig wants to recline his seat, I’m not saying anything.

Now, to be clear, I have no issues with legitimate service animals such as seeing-eye dogs. I also think allowances should be made for pets that are legitimately essential for emotional support.

The problem is that over the past few years people have been gaming — maybe that should be big gaming — the system.

Last year, Delta flew 250,000 animals designated as service or comfort. The total represented a 150-percent increase from 2015.

At this rate we may soon need a new designation to go along with first class and economy. I’m thinking barnyard.

The biggest increase has been in the emotional-support category. While I am sure there are people who benefit from this type of companionship, what about the collateral damage?

In the close quarters of steerage class, it certainly must be acknowledged that one passenger’s emotional support can be another’s emotional meltdown.

I mean, someone plops down on the seat next to me with their emotional-support boa constrictor, and I will hit notes that Renee Fleming couldn’t touch on her best day.

It is no surprise that with the trend toward comfort animals increasing, airlines have begun restricting this class of frequent flyers.

This does not always go well.

Take the tragic case of Pebbles the comfort hamster, who ended up dispatched to that great circular wheel in the sky after being denied passage on a Spirit Airlines flight. That Pebbles owner felt forced to bury her at sea via a restroom toilet surely must weigh on the consciences of all concerned.

A few other thoughts regarding pets on a plane:

I have no problems with pigs in the passenger cabin as long as they are in bacon form.

Is it not logical to assume that at some point an emotional-support pet might need its own emotional-support pet?

If I had an emotional-support pet it would be a Saint Bernard with a cask of brandy under its chin.

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Speaking of which, whatever happened to drinking to quell flight anxiety? Maybe the airlines should think about offering a complementary emotional-support martini.

In the case of emotional-support pets that actually fly, such as ducks, couldn’t they just meet you there, maybe follow the plane?

Emotional support peacocks should be confined to the first-class section with the rest of the peacocks.

Anybody have a problem with a rule requiring any and all support companions wear diapers?

Finally, if anyone flying to say, Hawaii, needs an emotional-support columnist, I am available.

Jim Shea is a lifelong Connecticut resident and journalist who believes the keys to life include the avoidance of physical labor and I-95. He can be reached at jimboshea@gmail.com and on Twitter @jimboshea.

Jim Shea|Columnist