Flying pigs can make you a better traveler – here’s how

Pigs can fly. At least on US Airways.

During Thanksgiving week, you may have heard the remarkable story about a passenger who packed an oversize “emotional support” pig on a flight from Connecticut to Washington. The duo didn’t get far after the barnyard animal defecated in the last row of the cramped regional jet. The crew ejected both passengers before taking off.

But it isn’t as remarkable as the oinker that actually flew on US Airways 14 years ago. That time, the animal departed on a six-hour flight from Philadelphia to Seattle with its human companion. In first class, no less. After the plane landed, several hundred pounds of pork reportedly wiggled free of its restraints and ran amok, squealing loudly and trying to break into the cockpit.

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Back then, a US Airways spokesman promised: “It will never happen again.”

Mistakes happen when you travel. Some of them are obvious and embarrassing, like allowing livestock on a plane. Others, you might not even know about. But if there’s one thing worse than making them, it’s failing to learn from your travel transgressions. Or not being allowed to.

Loss can be a great teacher. And who hasn’t misplaced something on a trip — a tube of toothpaste, a favorite toy, a purse? Traci Fox, a college professor from Philadelphia, took her lesson to heart. So, when she lost her wallet on a recent trip to Chicago, she knew what to do. She pulled out her smartphone and logged onto an app called 1Password, a vault for her passwords and credit card numbers.

“In under 15 minutes my ATM and three credit cards were canceled,” she says.

Steven Warrick, a purchasing manager who lives in Berlin, learned an important lesson when he booked a flight on Air France but failed to notice the seat configuration on the Boeing 777. He was squeezed into an uncomfortable seat 17-inches wide.

“They really pack people into this plane,” he said with a sigh.

On future flights, Warrick checks the aircraft type on Seatguru.com, which helps him select a plane with more generous seat room. Another new site, Routehappy.com, promises to bring back the “glamour days” of flying by letting you choose a route based on seat comfort. Being wedged into a tight economy class seat, adds Warrick, “was a great learning experience.”

Sometimes, you make mistakes you’re not even aware of. I’ve been testing a new app called Automatic ($99 on iOS) that connects my smartphone to the computer inside my high-mileage 2005 Honda Accord. Like most men, I think I’m an awesome driver. So I often tune out the three kids in the back when they offer their commentary because, well, what do they know about good driving?

Maybe I should listen to them. Automatic scores you for each trip, dinging you for behaviors like sudden braking and acceleration, or driving faster than 65 m.p.h. It sends you a helpful notification whenever you’ve been less than perfect. And according to Automatic, I’m less than perfect. I tend to speed on the highway. And I’ve made one or two sudden stops.

But the app is doing something interesting: It’s dispassionately displaying my driving mistakes and encouraging better behavior. That’s something no nagging navigator or backseat driver could do, thanks to my pigheadedness.

All of which brings us back to those piggies on US Airways. I wanted to know why, after promising to never let swine on a jet again, the airline would cave on this issue. The answer? The government requires airlines to allow emotional support animals, including pigs, on planes. In other words, even if its internal policy against porcine passengers had been in place, US Airways had no choice.

“On this case in particular, we followed our policies both in boarding and removing the animal,” says airline spokesman Joshua Freed.

What about that pledge made in 2000 — never again? I contacted someone who worked at US Airways around the time of the incident and he told me the US Airways of today is a different airline. It recently merged with American Airlines and any memos that might have been circulated that said “NO MORE PIGS!” are long forgotten.

So, next time something bad happens to you on a trip, remember the flying pigs. Learn from your mistakes, and don’t forget them.

Do travelers learn from their mistakes?

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How to avoid the most common mistakes

Plan ahead. The most common travel mistake is failing to plan ahead. Read your itinerary, double check your hotel reservation, and call ahead to make sure the ferry is running during the holidays. A little advance legwork can save you a lot of trouble.

Hire a pro. If you’re prone to making mistakes, like forgetting to apply for a visa, then consider hiring a travel professional. They can make sure you’re good to go. You can find a lot of great agents at the American Society of Travel Agents site, asta.org/travelagent.cfm.

Know who to call. When something goes wrong, you can turn to your agent. Or you can contact me. I advocate for consumers every day on this site.

34 thoughts on “Flying pigs can make you a better traveler – here’s how

  1. I actually really liked the poll question today, which reminded me that so many, many people would be out of a job if it were not for the dependability of human stupidity.

    As for the pig, what we really need to do is get rid of whatever laws allow for “emotional support” animals. They are stupid, it would be one scenario if someone really had a disability requiring an animal (like being blind) and while phobias are medical conditions deserving of treatment, the treatment should allow for the least invasive animal. What it should NOT be is an excuse and license for every princess (regardless of age) to bring their personal or family pet, just because “emotional support” animals fly free and pets fly in the hold at a significant cost. If flying causes you so much anxiety either take a pill or stay home.

    I doubt that will happen anytime soon, because another pig lesson I learned many years ago was “never try to teach a pig to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

    1. There seem to be no licensing, certification, nor regulations around what constitutes an “emotional support ” animal. I am considering being designated an emotional support animal so that I can fly free, etc. as I am a retired psychotherapist and believe I could accomplish much more than said Piggy while not running amok
      . As of now, so called E.S. animals cannot be barred from restaurants, housing, etc. Phobias, PTSD are REAL and CERTIFIED TRAINED animals can be therapeutic… but don’t victimize animals nor others by hauling them along to whatever/wherever you want.

      1. I agree. Support animals are a legitimate need for some people. The problem is that it’s too easy to get an animal declared as a support animal. I know someone who got certification for his dog so he wouldn’t need to put his dog in with cargo on his many flights between work and home. It was way too easy for him to have his dog declared a support animal.

        1. If you need a ‘support animal’, then drive. Planes are not for you. I have a friend with more money than God who pays for a first class ticket for her ‘support animal’. My friend has become so obsessed with this dog and to call it a support animal is a crock, yet she found some quack to write a note to get her card. Another friend drives for our local bus company. He can’t even question any animal someone brings onboard. That is just bull. If your dog that wears a prong collar and you use a 3 inch chain to walk the dog, that isn’t your support animal and it does not belong in with other people. Canine Companions for Independence is working to get this abuse changed US wide. I support their efforts!

          1. What a ridiculous comment. At best, your argument supports the conclusion that people fake mental illness and the need for an emotional support animal. Okay, fine. Why does that mean that people with legitimate needs for such an animal can’t fly?

          2. Absolutely they should not fly. Until there is ONE verification process and card, keep your darn pets in your car or at home. If you are that nutty, I don’t want to sit by you.

      2. You are correct that these animals can’t be barred, but they should be until one program is set in place for certifying them.

      3. Ha! I got a smile out of the thought of you running amok, “squealing loudly,” and doing unspeakable things “in the last row of (a) cramped regional jet.” I wanna be on THAT flight. Good luck on getting your certification. 🙂

      4. If everyone who thinks Emotional Support Animal designations are being misused on this forum would call their State and Federal legislators, something might happen. The phone number is listed on Google under “WHO IS MY SENATOR (etc.) and a phone call is worth a hundred letters and ten thousand comments on forums they probably never read.
        REMEMBER, these Elite Law Makers never venture into a grocery store to see that grimy poodle sitting in the cart then walking right onto the produce to sniff out the right bunch of arugula.
        You have to tell them.

      5. ” There seem to be no licensing, certification, nor regulations around what constitutes an “emotional support ” animal. ”

        Not true. There a certification procedure for service animals.

        1. In what States? Is this a government sanctioned procedure? And, Can we see “licensing” not just certification???AND why so many people that have “service animal” embroidered on a halter…and it’s accepted by restaurants, airlines? I love animals and do not like seeing them abused/misused by humans. PTSD, panic attacks are real. But don’t use only ONE resource to deal with these disorders. AND I want to see real diagnostic procedures to assess these disorders, not an MD.

          1. Every state, because federal law applies in every state. The ADA regulations require a service dog to have gone through specialized training procedures, i.e., to be certified by the training procedures.

          2. There is certification for SERVICE animals. NONE for ESA. AND we must be cautious –the ESA are only for airlines and housing. AND the person must have a MENTAL DISABILITY..not merely an impairment. Most people with mental illness do NOT have a disability. As to certification for SERVICE animals. we must be cautious as to who is “certifying” , espec. with internet certifications. http://servicedogcentral.org/content/node/76, and http://emotionalsupportanimals.org/ just as a start for learning about this. As Always: Please remember the animals–.

  2. On the one hand, I can see why “Emotional Support Animals” exist. I can see them, even, as being legit. (Though, alas, ripe for abuse.) That said, there need to be strict restrictions on which ESA’s are allowed to fly. I think it should be limited to well-behaved animals that will fit in a carrier under the seat. In practice, this is going to be nothing bigger than small cats and dogs (especially on regional jets, which have little under-seat room.)

    I can certainly conceive of a legit “Emotional Support Pig” (there are all kinds of people in this world) but they shouldn’t be allowed to fly.

    1. If you need the animal’s assistance on the plane, how would it help to have it under the seat? If this was just about transport, why wouldn’t you just arrange to have it fly in the cargo hold?

  3. When I saw the title of the article I thought of when I flew on a vacation with an ex of mine…

    The poll question is great! How true is it that people have jobs because people are dumb, I love it…

  4. Finally a pertinent poll question.
    The lesson I learn from the pig on the plane is that there is a law that is not well thought out and no one seems to fix it. I couldn’t believe the absurdity of it when it came out, and the fact that it is still in force shows quite a lack of common sense.

    And the answer to the poll, realistically, is that some do, some don’t.

      1. It’s definitely different! Maybe having some kind of off-the-wall travel or consumer advocacy column on a regular basis could work.

    1. The operative term being “good”, I have seen very well behaved pigs as family pets, and while I wouldn’t want it sitting on my lap, they were well behaved.

  5. What’s most remarkable about the service pig is that the ADA regulations no longer recognize any service animals other than dogs and miniature horses (seriously). For some reason, the DOT regulations, which are under the Air Carrier Access Act, do seem to still recognize other service animals.

    So: No service pigs in parks, shops, restaurants, buses, etc. The only places they are allowed is air planes regulated by the ACAA. How does that make any sense?

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