Saturday, January 20, 2018

Freakin' Cheap: How to Fly with a Pet Without Paying Fees

December 26, 2017, United Airlines 5637, MSP--SAN. The two women in the AB seats in our row had two dogs on their laps for the entire flight. They stowed two collapsible kennels in an overhead bin.

United Airlines charges $125 per pet brought on board, and it has to be stowed under a seat in a kennel at all times. You might think the round-trip fare for two dogs would be $500.

Wrong. Dogs can travel at no cost.

I discreetely flagged down a flight attendant to inquire about the dogs. I was careful to speak in a soft voice and to avoid any emotional words or gestures. I wanted to avoid the concussion, lost teeth and broken nose of the elderly physician who was dragged off a United flight last year.

One of the women was listening in and announced the dogs were emotional support animals. The flight attendant offered to re-seat me when I told her (truthfully) I have asthma. The passenger, still eavesdropping, boasted the dogs are "hypoallergenic." No dogs are hypoallergenic. I told the flight attendant I had medications, if necessary.

I dropped the issue at that point. I did not press the Federal safety rule that service animals must be seated in the floor space below the seat. My experience is that professionally trained service dogs automatically go to the floor space on a plane.

Anyone who believes they need their animal for emotional support at all times can go to questionable Web sites and buy a letter and an identification card. They can show the documentation to the gate agent when boarding a plane and not be charged a fee for transporting their animals.

I strongly believe we need to protect the rights of people with a bona fide need to travel with a service or support dog for no additional charge. Part of that protection is to ensure the need is, indeed, bona fide. I welcome Delta's announcement, last week, that they were tightening the rules for service animals.

Note: When I was Googling to make sure of the facts for transporting pets, I came across this article in the New Yorker. The author test-drove various emotional support animals, including an alpaca (similar to a llama):
An alpaca looks so much like a big stuffed animal that if you walked around F.A.O. Schwarz with one nobody would notice. What if you tried to buy a ticket for one on an Amtrak train? The alpaca in question was four and a half feet tall, weighed a hundred and five pounds, and had a Don King haircut. My mission: to take her on a train trip from Hudson, New York, to Niagara Falls.
“Ma’am, you can’t take that,” a ticket agent at the Hudson station drawled, in the casual manner in which you might say, “No flip-flops on the tennis court.” 
“It’s a therapy animal. I have a letter.” 
“O.K.,” she said flatly. “That’s a first.” I paid for our tickets. On the platform, the alpaca, whose name was Sorpresa, started making a series of plaintive braying noises that sounded like a sad party horn.
I recommend looking at the article, if only to see a photo of the alpaca. By the end of the article, I was in pain from laughing.

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