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Monkey business on Frontier flight a 'misunderstanding'

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/15/2016 Harriet Baskas

Frontier Airlines planes at Denver International Airport. © David Zalubowski, AP Frontier Airlines planes at Denver International Airport. The owner of a four-year-old marmoset insists he meant no monkey business when his emotional support animal caused alarm on Frontier Airlines Flight 1087 from Ohio’s John Glenn Columbus International Airport to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas last Tuesday.

Video released Thursday shows Jason Ellis, barefoot and in shorts, going through the security checkpoint in Columbus with his monkey, Gizmo, on his shoulder. But, according to KTRK and other news outlets, Ellis neglected to let the airline know Gizmo would be joining him on the flight as a registered emotional support animal.

A flight attendant saw Gizmo peeking out of Ellis’s shirt during the flight and asked for proof to confirm that the animal was a service animal, but Ellis couldn’t access his paperwork on board. 

Police were called to meet the plane at McCarran after reports that the monkey was “loose” during the flight, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, but an airline spokesman later confirmed that the monkey was never actually loose in the cabin, was “always with the passenger it was traveling with,” and was indeed a certified service animal.

Jason Ellis later told KSNV News that this was actually the third time he’d flown with Gizmo in the cabin, but that this time he didn’t have time to alert the crew that his monkey was flying as an emotional support animal.

“I didn't tell anybody on the plane that I had him ... I was the last one on. I was rushing," Ellis told KSNV. "Usually, it's on the roster but it wasn't because of the miscommunication on my behalf."

Ellis was able to access Gizmo’s paperwork for police officers that met the plane in Las Vegas and, after that, Ellis told the Review-Journal, “They were very apologetic and sweet at Frontier Airlines,” even offering to refund the cost of his flight.

According to the Frontier Airlines website, there is a charge of $75 each way for a pet that flies in the cabin, but that the airline accepts service animals “trained to assist passengers with disabilities in the cabin of our aircraft at no charge.” The website also notes that Frontier reserves the right to refuse to accommodate an animal in the cabin if “requested documentation is not available” or if the animal is considered aggressive or disruptive.

Harriet Baskas is a Seattle-based airports and aviation writer and USA TODAY Travel's "At the Airport" columnist. She occasionally contributes to Ben Mutzabaugh's Today in the Sky blog. Follow her at twitter.com/hbaskas.

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