The St. Bernard did its best to settle in the tight space. His head, complete with drooling mouth, rested on its owner’s lap. That left me with the tail end — for four hours. The dog, its owner and I were squeezed together on a plane. At least the beast had its own seat.

This was years ago — I frankly have no idea how such a large furry passenger passed muster back then — but the memory came rushing back when I spoke to an acquaintance. A psychologist had written a letter claiming her dog is an “emotional support animal,” she told me. It was a ruse, she admitted, a way to avoid paying the airline’s steep fees for carrying a small animal aboard. (Delta charges $125 one-way for cats, dogs and household birds on flights in the U.S. and requires that they remain in a crate under the seat.) Her dog is cute, tiny and makes her happy. But she’s faking out the airlines.

More people are doing likewise, it appears. I’ve seen an uptick in flying pooches, and I’ve heard other fliers complaining about dogs — and other animals — on planes.

The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 requires U.S. airlines to permit individuals with a disability to bring their service animals on flights. In 2003, the Department of Transportation expanded the definition of service animal to include not just guide dogs, but also animals that lend emotional support for a mental or emotional disorder.

That move cracked a door that has since been flung wide open. I’ve seen reports of a turkey, a duck and a pig on planes.

Maybe some of those animals were legit (or maybe it was nearing Thanksgiving). But flouting the rules is a problem. Some people are allergic to cats or dogs and shouldn’t be confined near one during a flight without warning. And families that legitimately need a support animal, for an autistic child, for instance, shouldn’t be looked at askance, as part of a growing liars club.

I adore dogs. I just want their owners to follow the rules.

 

Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.