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Popeyes Thinks It Has the Solution to Airlines Cracking Down on Emotional Support Animals

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Elizabeth Cassidy, The Mighty’s news reporter, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

Forget about crossing the road. “Emotional support” chickens are flying through the air, and not in the way you might think. Popeyes thinks it’s found a way to emotionally support its customers by supplying them with a three-piece chicken tender meal in a chicken-shaped boxed complete with an emotional support animal (ESA) vest. The fast-food chain announced Tuesday it will serve “Emotional Support Chickens” in terminal C of the Philadelphia International Airport to help those stressed about holiday travel.

While the chicken may provide warmth while resting in your lap, it won’t squawk, bark, neigh or whatever sound peacocks make while in flight. “This chicken provides comfort and nourishment during stressful air travel,” the side of the chicken-shaped box reads. “Unlike other chicken, it is marinated in real Louisiana spices for 12 hours and must be permitted to fly without restriction. Do not leave unattended, as Popeyes is not responsible for lost or stolen chicken.”


I love a good chicken joke as much as the next person. They’re classic, much like the fried chicken from Popeyes. Jokes aside, Popeyes’ marketing comes at a particularly trying time for support animals.

The year kicked off with a woman attempting to fly with an emotional support peacock, then there was the shockingly horrible news about a college student who flushed her emotional support hamster down an airport toilet because she couldn’t bring it on her flight.

Clearly, Popeyes is making fun of people who do absurd things like these people, but the joke could also be taken as a jab at people who actually need ESAs. We aren’t being ridiculous when we say we need our ESAs. They provide a service. My ESA has saved my life while dealing with bipolar disorder, and I’m not exaggerating.

Many airlines have cracked down on ESAs, issuing multiple restrictions in 2018 to stop people from passing their untrained pets as emotional support animals. While ESAs do not undergo official training like service animals, it’s expected that people who travel with emotional support animals will have a trained animal who won’t create issues.

ESAs aren’t just “support” animals on flights, but some people have used this label for convenience when they want to travel with their pet. As an ESA owner, I find this frustrating. My dog provides a service to me. She’s not a trained service animal, but she’s more than a pet. People who abuse the label are only creating more issues for people who need to travel with their real ESA.

Unfortunately, people passing pets off as ESAs is a common issue, and airlines are fed up. In January, Delta Air Lines announced it would require further documentation for emotional support animals, including a certificate showing good behavior in addition to a medical professional’s note for the owner.

After that, Delta announced in June it would no longer accept “pit bull type” dogs as emotional support or service animals. The airline cited an incident in which a dog bit another passenger. What Delta didn’t say is that the dog in this situation wasn’t a “pit bull type” dog. It was a chocolate lab pointer mix. This restriction is discriminatory and is the result of ignorance. Pit bulls, which isn’t a specific breed, are just as capable of behaving as other dogs, though temperament varies from breed to breed.

In December, Delta announced it would no longer accept service or emotional support animals younger than four months, and ESAs would no longer be allowed on flights longer than eight hours. While some of these restrictions and guidelines are helpful, some of them, like breed restrictions, only further alienate people who need emotional support animals.

Popeyes’ stunt is obviously an exaggeration, but if airlines continue to restrict emotional support animals, what, beyond fried chicken, will be left to comfort people who need support on flights?

Photo via Twitter

Originally published: December 18, 2018
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