Last time I checked, the only squirrel that could fly on his own was in “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” Others would presumably need an airplane. But in today’s world, that’s not a problem. You never know what furry creature might be scurrying up the aisles.
And asking for your peanuts.
Which brings us to Frontier Airlines last week, and a woman who brought a squirrel on board. Yep. A squirrel. She had notified the airline that she was traveling with an “emotional support animal.” She didn’t say it was, technically, a rodent.
“Rodents, including squirrels, are not allowed on Frontier flights,” an airline spokesman said in a statement. “The passenger was advised of the policy and was asked to deplane.”
Unfortunately, the woman said no. She wasn’t leaving. Perhaps she took the whole “Frontier” thing a little too literally. In any case, the police were called, and everyone had to get off the plane.
This did not please the other passengers. After waiting through lines, having their identity checked, and being forced to surrender their beverages, remove their electronics, take off their shoes, open their toiletries, get patted down like criminals, ride a train to their gates, wait for their class of service, and squeeze into inhuman seats while paying stupid fees for their bags to fly in a cargo space below, they were hardly in the mood for evacuation due to a squirrel.
But that’s what happened.
Legitimate issues? Or gaming the system?
And it continues to happen, because people keep pushing the envelope of this emotional support loophole to travel with — and avoiding paying a fee for — any animal they want.
We’ve already heard of pigs, hamsters, peacocks and a duck wearing a diaper (as if that makes it better) all being carried on by passengers claiming the animal was necessary for them to make it through the flight.
It makes you wonder what these people do with other nervous experiences, like a job interview, or the dentist. Do you carry a pig to a colonoscopy? Does a peacock come along for your driving test?
Now remember, we are not talking about certified service animals, such as dogs that accompany the blind. Those are protected, as they should be, by the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is no such status for emotional-support creatures. Sure, there are people with legitimate issues who are comforted by having an animal fly with them. And those people, if they must fly, should be accommodated as best as possible.
But there are also plenty of people trying to game this system. For one thing, who wouldn’t want to take their dog or cat with them on the plane, versus paying $125 to have them crated and stuck below?
And since you can go to the Internet right now and find plenty of websites that advertise quick and easy doctors’ notes, for a fee, to verify that you need the animal with you — they don’t meet you or talk to you, yet they issue you a letter — it’s pretty hard to determine who has a real problem and who doesn’t.
But as I get older, I find myself asking more and more a single question: “How did we get by BEFORE we had rules like this?” People have been flying for nearly a century without needing to board with a goat.
Why now is this an issue?
Our new Noah’s ark imitation
The answer is, it isn’t. The support animal phenomenon was an offshoot of the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act, which, amongst other things, forbade airlines to discriminate against people with handicaps.
Initially, few people abused this allowance. But it has grown exponentially in recent years, as we have grown more and more entitled and less and less concerned about what others think.
This new Noah’s ark imitation is, it seems, less a medical issue than an attitude, the attitude being “my comfort is more important than anyone else’s,” just as my opinion, my rights, or my kids are more important than anyone else’s. It’s the plague of self-entitlement over the consideration of others.
I’m betting the fact that the entire plane had to be delayed, and all the passengers unloaded, wasn’t as important to the woman with the squirrel as her insistence on her right to take this creature with her. The sentence, “I don’t want to inconvenience other people” is something you rarely hear anymore.
If flying is so traumatic, there are other ways to get places. It may not be as fast, but speed is not an entitlement, either. What about the comfort of other passengers who have to deal with an animal scooting up the aisles, or in some cases, the animal relieving itself, which has happened. What if other passengers have phobias about cats or rabbits? Don’t their issues count?
Maybe people think that since the airlines treat us like cattle, bringing a prairie dog on board is fitting. But it isn’t and it shouldn’t be.
Besides, last week’s incident just perpetuates the myth of squirrels, which we all thought were so cute as kids until our mothers suddenly screamed out, “Billy! Don’t touch that thing! It’ll bite your hand and give you rabies!”
Which was when our fantasies of pet squirrels died. At least for most of us. I wonder where that Frontier passenger went once she and her animal were escorted out. But you have to figure the squirrel was relieved.
After all, what if someone had a nut allergy?
The poor thing might have starved.
Contact Mitch Albom: email@example.com. Check out his latest book, “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven,” available online and in book stores nationwide. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.