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A squirrel looking shocked - not the actual emotional support squirrel on the flightiStock

Woman's emotional support squirrel kicked off flight

Squirrels are a famously supportive animal, of course

Ashitha Nagesh
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When we think of squirrels, the first words that come into our minds aren't usually ‘emotionally supportive’.

No offence to squirrels, of course, but when they get hungry or scared they can be a bit bitey. And scratchy. And, well, a pack of angry squirrels once reportedly killed a dog. A dog. It’s actually kind of terrifying. In the UK, you need a special license to keep grey squirrels as pets.

Although clearly one airline passenger disagrees - and we’re not ones to judge. The woman from Florida boarded a domestic Frontier Airlines flight in Orlando, carrying her emotional support squirrel in a cat carrier. 

But the squirrel barely had time to settle into its seat and order a tomato juice before the cabin crew realised what had happened - rodents, such as our squirrel friend, are banned from the cabin of most flights in the US.

When the crew brought this up with the unnamed woman, she reportedly refused to leave the flight - meaning that all the other passengers had to disembark for two hours while the police were called to escort her off.

The airline later said in a statement that the woman had, in fairness, told them in advance that she was bringing an emotional support animal with her. However, she hadn't told them it was a squirrel.

Because flying is an absolutely terrifying experience for a lot of people, emotional support animals are permitted on most US airlines - but after a couple of, well, quite disturbing incidents, they’ve had to be pretty careful about which animals they allow to fly in the cabin. Frontier, for example, now only allows dogs and cats, as well as miniature horses, provided they've had enough training.

But really, this squirrel isn’t even the most unexpected ‘emotional support’ animal we’ve come across.

Remember this little guy, who was spotted on a flight in 2016?

In January that year, a passenger took their emotional support turkey onto a Delta Air flight in the US. 

But because turkeys were permitted back then, and the person flying had dutifully submitted all of the relevant paperwork, our friend wasn’t just allowed to fly - he was given star treatment by terminal staff, who transported him directly to the plane in his own special chair. 

Much better than being part of someone's Christmas dinner, eh?

Then there was this emotional support kangaroo, who was taken on a plane in 2015.

And of course, if we're talking about animals on planes, we need to see a photo of a miniature horse getting ready for a flight. These pint-sized animals are allowed onboard as they can be an alternative support option for blind people who choose not to, or aren't able to, use guide dogs (check out the hi-vis).

Adorbs.

And they're not just cute. According to Dr Christine Rhodes, a lecturer in health and social care at the University of Derby, having emotional support animals around is linked to "decreased depression" and "the reduction of high blood pressure and poor cardiovascular health in adults, through the release of the body’s natural endorphins".

There's no question that therapy animals are becoming more common. United Airlines say requests for emotional support animals on their flights alone have risen by 75% to 76,000 in a year - with an increase of more than 30,000 passengers wanting to travel with their therapeutic friends last year.

Psychologist Niels Eek agrees, telling BBC Three: "The fear of flying can lead to people stopping flying completely, but emotional support animals could help to ease the fear in these situations.

"Recent studies, including one published by BMC Psychiatry, have shown that owning an animal can help relieve stress and boost positive emotions, and studies also show that interacting with animals can increase the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and lower cortisol levels, which helps us to calm down and feel more relaxed.”

So there you have it. Animals can be adorable AND calming - the perfect travel companions. The only question remaining is: what happens when these animals feel the call of nature during a flight?