Airlines Corral Wave of Pet Passengers, Spirit Allegedly Forces Hamster Flush
A wave of negative airline brand mentions, including one accusing Spirit Airlines of forcing a passenger to flush her “emotional support hamster,” are causing brands to take another look at their companion animal policies.
Doing so is probably a good marketing move, considering that for humans, animals “activate the dopamine reward center in the brain” and can often be used in marketing to prompt consumers to buy. Flushing and killing one, however, may not work as well for a brand.
The Huffington Post’s David Moye reports yesterday of an alleged incident on Nov. 21, 2017:
A Miami college student is considering legal action against Spirit Airlines after she says an employee wouldn’t let her on a flight until she flushed her emotional support hamster down an airport toilet.
Moye says Belen Aldecosea also had the option of not getting on the flight and keeping the rodent, Pebbles, that helped her through cancer, alive.
Indeed, an artist known as Ventiko — who bought a seat on a United Airlines flight for her “emotional support peacock” Dexter — did opt to leave the airport and drive to her destination with her pet, the BBC reports.
These incidents do put airlines in precarious brand reputation positions, as Americans love their pets. But “staff have faced biting, growling and barking animals and have had to clean up urination and defecation on board the plane,” Delta says, according to an article published on Feb. 6 by The Telegraph. So it appears sympathy may be running dry.
The Telegraph’s “Airlines Tighten Leash on 'Emotional Support' Pets, as Hedgehogs and Peacocks Are Banned” further states:
United Airlines has said requests for emotional support animals have risen by 75 [percent] in a year, and has tightened its onboard companion policy.
The airline explained that last year that had been 76,000 requests from passengers wanting to travel with emotional support pets, up by more than 30,000 compared with last year.
The new rules, which come into effect next month, will not affect animals such as guide dogs, but mental health pets will require 48 hours’ notice and a signed letter from a doctor.
Passengers will also have to show their animal is “trained to behave properly in a public setting."
The Telegraph says United and Delta are implementing policies that prohibit certain pets and Virgin Atlantic and British Airways already have such policies.
Airlines differentiate between emotional support animals, pets and service dogs.
Southwest, for instance, has a web page titled “Traveling With Animals” that tells passengers its rules for pets, “law enforcement/search and rescue dogs,” “assistance animals” and “international assistance and emotional support animals.”
The policy changes following the peacock incident and pre-dating the hamster one specifically address emotional support animals.
George F. Will opines on Feb. 7 in The Washington Post that the airlines are moving in the right direction:
In contemporary America, where whims swiftly become necessities en route to becoming government-guaranteed entitlements, it is difficult to draw lines. … But the proliferation of emotional-support animals suggests that a cult of personal fragility is becoming an aspect of the quest for the coveted status of victim.
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
Related story: Baby, Puppy Ads Aid More Than Impulse Buys