Amberley Babbage had a big reaction when she spotted a miniature horse checking in at Chicago's O’Hare International Airport on Thursday.
“I did a double take,” Babbage told TODAY. “At first, I thought it was a really large dog. She was so calm, just standing there."
Passengers and crew members on the American Airlines flight to Omaha, Nebraska, were just as intrigued by the 135-pound service animal named Flirty.
“Even the pilots had to come out and say ‘hi,’” Flirty’s owner, Abrea Hensley, wrote on Instagram.
Hensley — who is allergic to dogs and has post-traumatic stress disorder, according to her Instagram profile — takes Flirty everywhere she goes. The 7-year-old mare reminds Hensley to take her medication and provides support when she becomes overwhelmed.
“I don’t know what I would do without her, even if I was cured today,” Hensley told a local paper. “She’s my constant companion.”
American Airlines was happy to welcome Flirty on board.
“We recognize the important role trained service dogs, cats and miniature horses can play in lives of those with disabilities, including, but not limited to visual impairments, deafness, seizures, and mobility impairments,” a spokesperson told TODAY. “They are welcome in the cabin, at no charge, if they meet the requirements.”
But Hensley says she won’t be purchasing another plane ticket anytime soon. Though Flirty was on her best behavior — she was quiet and took a long nap — Hensley found the experience to be nerve-wracking.
“It’s just too difficult to make sure Flirty doesn’t inconvenience other passengers,” Hensley wrote on Twitter, noting that despite having bulkhead seats, “Flirty couldn’t help jostling” the seat of the person in the last row of first class.
Miniature horses are allowed to fly in commercial cabins as service animals, per the U.S. Department of Transportation, but not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. Comedian Whitney Cummings took to Twitter to express her concerns over Flirty’s recent trip.
“This is no doubt incredibly stressful and distracting for the people on board, but it’s also stressful for the horse,” Cummings wrote. “They’re prey animals and aren't designed to be going 500 miles through the sky. If you’re too nervous to fly, take a train or Xanax.”
But many others came to Hensley’s defense. As one person replied, “This horse was actually a trained service animal for a medical condition just like a service dog would be. It’s actually against the ADA to not allow it on.”