NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Traveling by air can be stressful enough — but imagine who or what might be in the seat next to you.
As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, more animals of just about every variety seem to be aboard — but is it safe or even legal for them to fly?
Beyond the long lines at airport security some surprising species are passing through the gate.
Passengers are flying with emotional support animals, pets of every kind — monkeys, turkeys, and yes even pigs can fly.
The pets are on board for free, and sit on seats, laps, or even uncaged on the floor.
That doesn’t always sit well with other travelers.
“Emotional support animals are whimpering on the plane, barking — barking at the flight attendants, barking at the seat mates, growling,” said frequent flier Eric Goldman.
The government allows it if the passenger has documentation from any licensed mental health professional including a medical doctors who is specifically treating a passenger’s mental or emotional disability.
Flight attendants said they’ve experienced problems.
“They become unruly onboard, can create potential problems where flight attendants are trying to contain the problem where there may be a serious health emergency,” said Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants.
Psychologist Dr. Harris Stratyner has strict guidelines for issuing letters for emotional support animals, or ESAs.
“I would never give a letter to someone who hasn’t been in therapy with me at least a year,” he said.
Others have different protocols for certification.
CBS producers went undercover and obtained ESAs with few questions asked.
A chiropractor offered up a certification for a fee, no exam necessary.
There’s a cottage industry online for ESA letters and other accessories.
Once certified, their owners don’t have to pay the regular airline fee of about $100 to fly with their pet.
“You never know looking at the dog what kind of training she actually has had,” said Dr. Richard Goldstein, Chief Medical Officer of the Animal Medical Center.
According to Dr. Goldstein, proper training is essential for a true service animal, especially if it’s something as wild as a turkey.
“Animals that are not domesticated, it’s even a worse scenario because we don’t know how they’re going to react,” Dr. Goldstein said.
Specialized service dogs undergo specialized training, and under the Americans with Disabilities Act, must be accommodated. People flying with an ESA need to give the airline 48 hours to verify the letter.