US Airlines saddled with miniature horses

Giving people access to airplanes and flying them to their destination is the bread and butter of airlines. Except of course for those that focus on freight, mail or parcels but the principle is the same.
My colleagues at the Animal Transport Association most recently released an article in ATA Migrations v2011_048 (July 16, 2012) about allowing miniature horses, pot bellied pigs or monkeys in the cabin to accompany disabled persons.  The same stands for psychiatric or emotional support animals according to  Brandon Macsata of the US Association for airline passenger rights.

The need for service animals is well understood by airlines and in the past I together with other colleagues, on behalf of the airlines, have worked with Guide dogs for the blind, an association that works towards sensitizing the public and the industry towards the needs of disabled persons and how to handle guide dogs. In an airline environment most animals travel in the (heated) belly holds of the aircraft.
As is pointed out in the article some disabled persons prefer opting for animals with a longer lifespan than dogs, which I think is a fair decision. The problem for airlines and some passengers arises when the definition of a service animal is stretched to include other animals than the usual cat or dog.

Behavioral and physiological animal needs (faeces/urine) come further complicate the picture for airlines, not only from a passenger discontent perspective - think of allergies, unease with or fear of animals but also from the perspective that crews are not trained to deal with disruptive animals. A screaming pig or a panicked, be it a miniature, horse is most likely one of the least likely experiences you would want to live on board an aircraft. Staff in charge of checking in and flying passengers may not know when or where to draw the line when confronted with an unusual service animal. How big is big and the ability or capacity to restrain an animal by its owner are not things that are easily determined as well as perhaps an unreasonable expectation to demand from check-in and flying staff.

Although the intentions of the US DOT are understandable and the flying public needs to be warranted access to airplanes, in most circumstances this is largely the case. However as always there are exceptions and the more you look into this issue the more you will find problems with not restricting the definition of a service animal to mean cats or dogs.  From what I have read airlines can refuse boarding certain animals but by allowing a stretchable definition of a service animal a pandoras' box of issues has just been opened for the benefit of a minute minority and at the expense of an overwhelming majority. As complex as transporting animals already is, this issue is just another nail in the coffin of airlines' willingness to transport animals altogether.  


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