Rocky Makes the No-Fly List

Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in the nature, fresh green grass background

Just when you thought it was safe to board an airplane, another wild and wacky emotional support animal story surfaces.  And this time, it’s not a pig, a turkey or a peacock, but instead a squirrel.

That’s right, I said squirrel, as in “get out of my bird feeder, “Rocky J” and of course “moose and” fame.

It all started when Cindy Torok made reservations for her flight from Orlando to Cleveland. According to Frontier Airlines, Torok said she was flying with her emotional support animal, and indicated that she had a letter from her psychiatric nurse practitioner stating that she had an anxiety disorder and that she needed to travel with the animal. It’s unclear on whether Torok mentioned that the animal was a squirrel, but the letter from her her psychiatric nurse practitioner just referred to it as an animal.

On the day of the flight Daisy (the squirrel in question) made it through the TSA checkpoint, as she was not deemed a security risk; however when the cabin crew found out that the emotional support animal in question was a squirrel, the fur hit began to fly — figuratively.

Under the law, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) specifically states that certain species – including reptiles, rabbits, farm animals, ferrets, amphibians, and rodents — are prohibited from being service or emotional support animals, and that the airlines are not required to carry them.

Following the letter of the law, airline personnel asked Torok to deboard. She declined and the police were called while the rest of the passengers deplaned. The flight was delayed for two hours because of this incident, and a waiting area  full of obviously distressed passengers booed Torok as she was finally deplaned by authorities.

Torok took a later flight without Daisy, and has said several times that she intends to file a lawsuit against the airline. I’m not quite sure what her grounds will be, as the ACAA clearly states that the airlines don’t have to accommodate rodents, but hey, it’s a free country.

In the aftermath of this brouhaha, at least one airline – Spirit Airlines – has tightened their protocol for accepting Emotional Support Animals. For all travel after October 15, 2018, passengers must submit three forms – Mental Health Professional Form, Veterinary Health Form, Passenger Liability Form – at least 48 hours prior to travel. After the forms are received a Disability Coordinator will review the forms to determine if the animal will be allowed to fly. And yes, the forms do ask the height, weight and species of the animal.

I’m thinking other airlines will follow suit. Stay tuned.