This story recently made world headlines: Matthew Meehan was on a Delta flight somewhere and found his seat area covered in faeces left by an ill “emotional support animal” (ESA) on a previous flight. The article, naturally, focused on the details of the moment: Meehan’s refusal to sit in the dog’s faeces, his rage and immediate response on social media. Delta apologised, refunded and placated. Meehan “may” seek further legal action.
But what about the emotional support animal? We live in an era where no-one’s rights will be publicly infringed upon and everyone will be publicly treated with respect. Let’s talk ESA’s. Service animals (seeing-eye dogs) and emotional support animals (ESAs) are apparently two different things. But the term “Emotional Support” is a very wide one. Open for interpretation. Open also for abuse, like the performance artist who tried to get her pet peacock on a flight with her. Maybe she really needed the support, maybe it was a piece of performance art, who knows? The peacock was denied boarding and left roosting in the rafters of the departure hall.
One can quite easily imagine a person going to their psychologist and obtaining certification that they would absolutely, incontrovertibly and unreasonably freak out if their peacock wasn’t there providing emotional support. One could just as easily imagine that bright-plumed creature ending up in a seat next to you and getting involved with your peanuts. And what about your rights? And the peacock’s rights? It all becomes very complicated very quickly.
But how are brands to deal with this complexity? Brands like Delta? What to do when the ESA’s sh*t hits the seat?
As always, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. A few common sense observations.
Forcing a passenger to sit in faeces isn’t going to get you any brand love. Ever.
If you mess up, don’t try to defend with a “yesbut” apology.
Don’t ignore because it won’t go away.
Don’t try to hide. Because there is no place to hide any more.
Act like a decent human being. Say sorry. Mean it. Then fix it. We all like happy endings after all.
Things will happen when animals are on planes. Just watch Snakes on a plane.
If it affects you, manage it.
An engineer told me this. It’s not super-smart, it’s just super-sensible.
A crude rule of thumb
You can’t leave your staff to figure that stuff out on the spur of the moment. If you do, your brand might suffer. If there is ever a “guiding principle” out there, a brand idea that all employees can follow and that will give clarity to each and every one of their actions, a very good one would be: “Don’t be a dick”. Let’s put it in practice to see if it works. Suppose Delta Airlines’ motto was: “Fly with us. We won’t be dicks.” Then, the employee could ask himself: “By forcing this passenger to sit in faeces, will Delta come across as being a dick?”
Now that we’re asking some questions, let’s ask some more:
Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Nestle could ask: By being the top creators of plastic waste, are we being dicks? Yes you are.
Is P&G being a dick by making Fairy bottles out of 10% ocean plastic and 90% post-consumer recycled plastic? No, you’re not being dicks.
It’s crude, but effective. Brands are always talking about making “human connections” with people. Well then, act like a good human.
I got the journalistic facts from the links included, so if any of the facts are wrong, please direct all complaints to source.