(TMU) — Passengers on an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Omaha were recently treated to the pleasure of seeing an unexpected—and adorable—miniature horse on board.
The service animal, named Flirty The Mini Service Horse, delighted passengers who captured video of the tiny pony and shared it online in footage that has now gone viral.
While many have confused Flirty with an emotional service horse, Flirty is acgtually a seven-year-old miniature service horse who has provided mobility assistance and medical alerts to Hensley since 2017, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
There seems to be a lot of confusion on the difference between support and service animals. This graphic helps to explain the difference! pic.twitter.com/jcAqIBuuNF
— Flirty The Mini Service Horse (@FlirtyTheSH) September 3, 2019
The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a “final statement of enforcement priorities” last month clarifying that miniature horses are allowed to board commercial planes alongside cats and dogs.
Flirty was accompanying her owner, Abrea Hensley, who was flying out to visit her aunt. Hensley has been recording her travels alongside Flirty on Twitter under the handle @FlirtyTheSH.
In a tweet posted on Friday, the Bellevue, Nebraska native said:
“Flirty and I took to the skies, yesterday! It was a great experience and I learned a lot. Flirty was FANTASTIC and handled it all like a pro. That being said, I’m going to keep traveling by car, it’s just easier on Flirty. Flying will be reserved for emergencies and such.”
Flirty and I took to the skies, yesterday! It was a great experience and I learned a lot. Flirty was FANTASTIC and handled it all like a pro. That being said, I’m going to keep traveling by car, it’s just easier on Flirty. Flying will be reserved for emergencies and such. https://t.co/AHfHXpoU2V
— Flirty The Mini Service Horse (@FlirtyTheSH) August 30, 2019
Despite Flirty’s great behavior, the two still encountered slight difficulties. Hensley wrote:
“Because my airport is smaller, the planes are smaller and don’t have solid bulkheads. Flirty couldn’t help jostling the seat of the person in the last row of first class every time she moved.
Once we got up to cruising altitude, she took a nap and was very quiet. But she had to rebalance quite a bit while ascending and descending and kept bumping the back of their seat through the curtain ‘bulkhead.’ She did such a good job of handling everything, though, I’m so proud of her!”
The American Airlines flight crew also shared a photo of Flirty on an Instagram story from their “AA Stews” account.
Here is a great picture of Flirty and the flight crew from our return flight! They absolutely loved Flirty. pic.twitter.com/QfavxFj0B2
— Flirty The Mini Service Horse (@FlirtyTheSH) August 31, 2019
Twitter user Evan Nowak, like several other passengers, posted video footage of the well-mannered horse standing before Hensley’s feet at the front of the plane.
Nowak posted the video along with Lil Nas X’s hit song “Old Town Road” and the caption:
“At this time we would like to begin boarding with any active duty military, families traveling with children under the age of 3, and horses…”
“At this time we would like to begin boarding with any active duty military, families traveling with children under the age of 3, and horses…” @AmericanAir @LilNasX @barstoolsports @BarstoolILLSt @realslimshanny @UNITEDA1RLINES @billyraycyrus @SouthwestAir @TSA @Kat103Omaha pic.twitter.com/qVRLCH4IFc
— Evan Nowak (@ecnowak) August 30, 2019
While many were delighted by Flirty’s presence on the flight, social media users predictably spewed vitriol at Hensley and her service animal. Mistaking the small pony for an emotional support animal, users subjected Hensley to “three straight days of harassment, insults, threats, sexual harassment, and misinformation being spread all over the internet and even the entire world,” she said.
One Twitter user wrote:
“People who need ‘emotional support’ animals shouldn’t be flying. I feel sorry for your poor horse and that person in first class whose flight you ruined.”
“Well, it’s a good thing she’s not an emotional support animal, then!”
Service animal and emotional support animals serve entirely different functions, with service animals undergoing strict training for the purpose of assisting people with disabilities with specialized, specific skills.
In another tweet, election lawyer J. Christian Adams attempted to pin the blame for Flirty on former Attorney General Eric Holder, tweeting a story he wrote for far-right news site PJ Media that attempts to advance the theory that the Obama administration advanced a “radical” agenda to transform commercial planes into de facto flying zoos, disrupting civilization like the “barbarian invasions and slave revolts” of the past.
“Years ago I warned that Eric Holder’s radical policies would lead to horses and pigs on airplanes so crackpots could fundamentally transform the plane cabin. Now @FlirtyTheSH fulfills that prediction.”
Years ago I warned that Eric Holder's radical policies would lead to horses and pigs on airplanes so crackpots could fundamentally transform the plane cabin. Now @FlirtyTheSH fulfills that prediction.https://t.co/6hAh4FwR12
— J. Christian Adams (@ElectionLawCtr) September 2, 2019
A user responded:
“Methinks you’re just agitating for attention, pesty J. As far as ‘crackpots’ go, I’d say you’re talking to the mirror on that one. Service mini horses have been flying since the 90s. They live about 35 years, which means they have a much longer work-life than service dogs.”
Indeed, miniature service horses have roughly three times the working lifespan of service dogs, and are trained in a highly similar way.
A spokesperson from American Airlines told the Independent:
“This miniature horse was a trained service animal, which American Airlines accepts onboard following evaluation on a case-by-case basis.
We recognize the important role trained service dogs, cats and miniature horses can play in lives of those with disabilities and they are welcome in the cabin, at no charge, if they meet the requirements.”
While it may be impossible for the online peanut-gallery of haters and ableists to understand, Flirty is a crucial asset to people with disabilities such as Hensley. Service animals like Flirty make it possible for all kinds of people to enjoy the world in ways that they never could before.