Air Canada only allows emotional support dogs on their flights. (Black Press file photo)

Everything you need to know about comfort animals on Canadian airlines

Air Canada only allows emotional support dogs, while WestJet accepts a much broader range

Miniature horses, monkeys and pigs can legally fly as emotional support animals on at least one Canadian airline, but a travellers’ advocate says most jet-setting comfort animals are far less exotic and are a truly necessary accommodation for people with disabilities.

Unusual animal encounters at the airport have been making headlines in recent weeks.

United Airlines turned away a passenger who tried to board a flight with an emotional support peacock last month, and a Florida woman claimed last week that an airline employee told her to flush her dwarf hamster down a toilet after refusing to let the pet on the plane.

Passenger rights activist Gabor Lukacs, who has waged numerous legal battles against Canadian airlines, said the attention paid to these sensational cases undermines the rights of people with disabilities who need emotional support animals to fly comfortably.

“We need to move away the focus from the animal to the fellow passenger,” said Lukacs.

“The animal is not there as a kind of luxury, they are simply there to make sure that a person with a disability is able to enjoy the same way to travel as people who don’t have disabilities.”

Air Canada and WestJet both have policies on their websites regarding emotional support animals and require that a passenger provide documentation from a licensed mental health professional certifying the need for the animal.

Air Canada only allows emotional support dogs on their flights.

WestJet accepts a much broader range of emotional support animals including cats, miniature horses, pigs and monkeys, and said decisions about other “unusual animals” are made on a case-by-case basis, except for those that pose health risks such as rodents and reptiles.

Neither airline agreed to be interviewed about their policies.

READ MORE: Fraser Health introduces first hospital ‘trauma dog’ in B.C.

Lukacs said Canadian airlines are obliged to accommodate emotional support animals for people with disabilities and failure to do so would amount to a form of discrimination.

He said the only exception would be if the animal poses a substantial risk of harming other passengers, but insisted that overwhelmingly, pets on planes cause little disruption.

Douglas Tompson said on a recent flight from Saskatoon to Toronto he was seated near a passenger who took her cat out of its carrier and started playing with it, to the coos of flight attendants.

His throat started to tingle.

Tompson, who is highly allergic to cats, said the flight attendants had to give him a Benadryl from a first-aid kit to reduce the redness and swelling, but he was still itching and wheezing as he boarded his next two flights on his more than 24-hour journey.

He said he was told to give the airline a doctor’s note about his allergy so they could create a “buffer zone” if he were to again share a plane with a feline.

“The flight crew make a big deal about peanut allergies … I wish that they’d make the same announcement for cats,” Tompson said.

Lukacs sees the allergy issue in terms of two passengers having different disabilities, and both deserving to be accommodated.

While some have expressed suspicions about pet owners seeking fake documentation for emotional support animals, Lukacs said trying to fly with an animal under false pretenses would amount to “fraud.”

“As a matter of equity … we don’t consider that people should be paying extra just because they have a disability,” he said.

“They have the right to the flight and enjoy travel the same way as anybody else.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

B.C. storm totals $37M in insured damages: Canadian Bureau

The December storm wreaked havoc on B.C.’s south coast

Celebration of life planned for retired Abbotsford Police sergeant

Shinder Kirk died Dec. 22 in a two-car crash in Nanaimo

Hatzic man charged with assaulting Chilliwack RCMP officers

Jason Roberto Vatcher was out on bail facing firearms charges

Abbotsford’s Padgham receives Team Canada invite

Young pitching prospect looking for donations through GoFundMe for trip

Elderly pedestrian injured in Abbotsford

Senior was struck on South Fraser Way near Trethewey Street

VIDEO: Abbotsford care aide says more staff will help patients

Number of care hours for residents lags behind provincial targets

Pregnant B.C. firefighter tries to save own house that caught fire

Julia Flinton and Anthony Sellars both worked on the 2017 wildfires

Crime Stoppers releases Metro Vancouver’s top 10 most wanted

The organization releases the list each year to mark National Crime Stoppers Month in January

Theresa May wins no-confidence vote after Brexit deal rejection

UK PM can keep her job, after House of Commons voted 325-306

Arrest made in 2017 Vancouver homicide

Maninder Singh Braich died after he was found at a home near Prince Albert and East 49th

First Nation supporters march to Horgan’s MLA office

Dozens marched across the Greater Victoria community of Langford to support the Wet’suwet’en people

Liberal candidate steps aside after singling out Jagmeet Singh’s race

Karen Wang says she made comments online that referenced Singh’s cultural background

SUV wedged on top of car in B.C. mall parking lot has customers confused

The accident occurred Tuesday, no injuries were reported

Most Read