A prominent Brooklyn artist ruffled some feathers at Newark Liberty International Airport over the weekend when she attempted to board a United Airlines flight to Los Angeles with her emotional support animal - a rescue peacock named Dexter.
The travel blog Live and Let's Fly first reported about the bizarre scene that played out at the airport on Sunday, and the travel talk show the Jet Set later shared photos of the passenger and her feathered friend perched on top of her luggage cart.
The passenger, identified by DailyMail.com as the critically acclaimed Bushwick-based photographer and performance artist Venitko, had reportedly offered to pay a second seat to accommodate Dexter, but stressed that she had a right to bring him on board as her emotional support animal, according to the travel blog.
The airline denied her request to bring the large bird on board the flight.
A spokeswoman for the airline tells DailyMail.com that the traveller had been repeatedly told in advance that she would not be able to have the peacock accompany her on the plane.
"This animal did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size," Andrea Hiller said in a statement.
"We explained this to the customer on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport."
Hiller went on to say that United requires customers wishing to travel with an emotional support animal to provide documentation from a medical professional and at least 48 hours advance notice.
"In our effort to better balance protecting our employees and customers while accommodating passengers with disabilities, we are reviewing our existing policy and plan to share more soon," she added.
According to the US Department of Transportation's policy concerning "unusual service animals," they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and airlines are urged to consider each animal's size, weight, state and foreign country restrictions, and whether or not the animal would pose a direct threat, or cause a disruption on a flight.
Ventiko on Sunday addressed the incident in a post on Dexter's own Instagram page, which boasts 822 followers, writing from the bird's perspective: "spent 6 hours trying to get on my flight to LA. Tomorrow my human friends are going to drive me cross country!"
On Monday, she was in Indianapolis to visit her family, who posed for a selfie with her and Dexter.
In an earlier post, which included a short video of Dexter grooming his feathers, Ventiko wrote that her bird had been cleared to travel to Los Angeles with her "to make 'Art'."
DailyMail.com on Tuesday reached out to Ventiko for a comment and was awaiting a response.
According to a 2015 profile of Venitko published in the Bushwick Daily, she bought Dexter and a peahen named Etta off of Craigslist in December 2014 for US$200 because she wanted to incorporate live birds in her art installation at Select Air Fair in Miami.
She told the paper that she and Dexter bonded right away -"he gave me kisses and put his head in my mouth" - but at the conclusion of the art show she handed both birds to another artist, who lived in Florida.
Dexter and Etta mated and had chicks, but some time later the mom and baby birds had vanished, and Dexter turned aggressive.
After learning that the peacock's new owner had him living in a garage, an outraged Ventiko said she "had to intervene" and ended up adopting him.
The vibrantly hued bird currently lives with the artist and her two cats in Bushwick, where she often can be seen walking around with Dexter on a leash.
Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines rolled out a new set of rules requiring owners of service and support animals to provide more information before their animal can fly in the passenger cabin, including an assurance that it's trained to behave itself.
The airline said complaints about animals biting or urinating or defecating on planes have nearly doubled since 2016.
Starting March 1, Delta will require owners to show proof of their animal's health or vaccinations at least 48 hours before a flight.
Owners of psychiatric service animals and of those used for emotional support will need to sign a statement vouching that their animal can behave
A rift has grown between disabled people who rely on trained service animals, usually dogs, and passengers with support or comfort animals.
Although exact figures aren't available, airline employees say dogs and cats are the most common animals on planes, but there have been sightings of pigs, snakes and turkeys too.
Federal regulators have interpreted a 1986 access-to-travel law to allow support animals in airplane cabins and in apartment buildings that do not allow pets. That has created a cottage industry of online companies that help people establish their pet as an emotional support animal.
Airlines must allow support animals in the cabin, although they can require owners to present a letter from a doctor or other medical provider who can vouch that the human traveler is helped by having the animal there.
The Transportation Department, aided by an advisory committee of airline and passenger advocates, has been considering tightening the definitions of service and comfort animals but missed its own deadline last year.
The airlines also complain that they have no way to verify that doctors who sign off on comfort animals are qualified to decide if someone needs the emotional support.
American Airlines and United Airlines said they were reviewing their animal policies. Both reported seeing a significant increase in the number of emotional-support animals since 2016.