Good Move: No 'Emotional Support' Peacocks and Lizards on Planes

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


May 13, 2021

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

I'm Art Caplan. I'm at the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University School of Medicine. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I used to fly quite a bit to different locations. Some was for work, some for giving talks, and sometimes flying just for vacations, recreation, and fun.

One thing I noticed during these flights before the COVID-19 pandemic was that many people were bringing more and more animals on the planes, claiming they were emotional support animals or necessary because of a disability. I saw many dogs. I also saw cats. I saw people lugging on, in one case, a potbellied pig. I'm told that other people were bringing birds, peacocks, and all manner of critters. It was starting to make airlines look like Noah's Ark — not just transporting people but two of everything else.

Well, happily, there's finally been some reform in the area of airline travel and what counts as an emotional support animal. You need to get proper certification, which I think requires a doctor, a veterinarian, or both to sign off and say, "Yes, this is a support animal."

Some animals are banned entirely. I think the birds are gone. You can't bring them on under any circumstances. I fully support this.

I have a dog. I'm not anti-animals and I'm not anti–emotional support animals. Let's face it: If you just buy a vest online and slap it on some animal, that doesn't make it an emotional support animal and it doesn't mean that you need one. Many people were just pushing the boundaries and faking the need to get these animals in order to get early seating or better seating. It became almost a racket to certify that you needed to have this emotional support animal to go on your trip.

Airlines have been facing other problems. Attendants were being attacked and people were behaving in an absolutely reprehensible manner ethically, and rebelling, if you will, against wearing masks on airplanes during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were giving flight attendants more than a hard time and were sometimes physically violent. I'm pleased to say that has started to be taken seriously in getting criminalized so that you can't behave like an utter jerk on a plane.

Public transportation, whether it's airlines, trains, or buses, is a privilege. It's not something that everybody has a right to do. It's not something that everybody can claim that they must be allowed to do. You have to behave properly. You have to bring with you your necessary accoutrements, your luggage, and so on in a way that doesn't burden others. You certainly don't want to be lugging the entire zoo onto a plane, claiming that somehow it's your right to bring these creatures along.

I think we started, finally, to make some sense out of public transportation, and I think that may be one of the good things that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I'm Art Caplan at the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine. Thanks for watching.

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, is director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center and School of Medicine. He is the author or editor of 35 books and 750 peer-reviewed articles as well as a frequent commentator in the media on bioethical issues.

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