Hay there, seat mate!

By Hannah Chubb
September 03, 2019 11:25 AM
Amberley Babbage/Twitter

Passengers on a recent American Airlines flight from Chicago to Omaha, Nebraska had an unexpected neigh-bor on board.

A miniature horse that goes by the name of “Flirty The Mini Service Horse” was seen taking flight on a regional jet this past Friday, kicking off the long weekend by supporting her owner, Abrea Hensley, during her travels. Hensley wrote on Twitter that she was flying to visit her aunt.

Hensley and Flirty’s travels were documented on Twitter under the handle @FlirtyTheSH, an account Hensley runs on behalf of her beloved sidekick. According to an article in the Omaha World-Herald, Flirty is a seven-year-old miniature service horse who helps Hensley with medical alerts and mobility assistance, and the pair have been together since 2017.

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“Flirty and I took to the skies, yesterday!” the Bellevue, Nebraska native tweeted on Friday. “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.”

It appears this was the first time Hensley had ever taken Flirty on an airplane, and despite her good behavior, there were still some hurdles along the way.

“Because my airport is smaller, the planes are smaller and don’t have solid bulkheads,” Hensley wrote. “Flirty couldn’t help jostling the seat of the person in the last row of first class every time she moved.” 

She continued: “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!” 

Flirty was even featured in a photo with the American Airlines flight crew, which was put on the American Airlines “AA Stews” Instagram story

Several passengers on board — and patrons at the airport before and after take off — took to Twitter to post their own photos of the unlikely flyer. Twitter user Evan Nowak posted a video of the horse standing calmly in front of Hensley’s feet near the front of the plane, where she was seated behind the bulkhead so there was more foot room for Flirty to stand.  

“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…” Nowak jokingly captioned his video, which he put to the tune of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”

According to Hensley, many hateful, “ableist” comments have sprouted up over the weekend, criticizing her for taking her horse on the plane. Replying to several cruel messages on Twitter, she wrote that she has been “subjected to three straight days of harassment, insults, threats, sexual harassment, and misinformation being spread all over the internet and even the entire world” since her trip.

One thing that Hensley has tried to make clear in her responses is that the U.S. Department of Transportation mandates that miniature horses are allowed to accompany those with disabilities in the cabin of an airplane. American Airlines states that they accept service dogs, cats and miniature horses on board.

Hensley also tried to clear up any confusion between a service animal and an emotional support animal, as service animals have undergone strict training to provide specific, protective services to those with disabilities. 

“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,” one person wrote on Twitter. Hensley responded: “Well, it’s a good thing she’s not an emotional support animal, then!”

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According to the Omaha World-Herald, miniature service horses have about three times the working lifespan of service dogs, and are trained in much the same way. Flirty has made it possible for Hensley to move through the world in ways she was unable to before — cross country flights included. 

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