Flying is literally for the birds … and dogs: Doug McIntyre

In this file photo, a jet takes off under cloudy skies at LAX before a Thanksgiving holiday travel rush. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze)

Holiday travel is America’s newest contact sport. More physical than football, it’s played by millions from coast to coast. The season runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, with men, women and entire families gearing up for the annual trip home for the holidays.

Like any sport, there are rules: Book early for the best prices, get to the airport at least two hours before your flight and under no circumstances talk about the election.

Any election.

You can’t have a sport without winners (free upgrade) and losers (lost luggage) as well as distinctive uniforms to identify the combatants. The following gear is as essential to the modern holiday traveler as bat, ball and PEDs are in America’s pastime: ear buds, phone charger, backpack, water bottle, iPad — fully loaded with six Golden Globe screeners you scored from your dental hygienist, who also happens to be Meg Ryan’s dental hygienist — hoodie, Uggs and either traditional pajamas or Christmas-themed onesie, traveler’s choice.

And last but not least, a minimum of one dog.

I’m not anti-dog. I like dogs. Man’s best friend, Lassie, fetch. They have a big place in our lives. But does that place have to include row 34 on Delta Air Lines? My flight back to L.A. this season had so many dogs aboard it was essentially a kennel with wings.

I spent the bulk to this past holiday traveling.

Along the way I flew, drove, walked, rode the rails and cruised the high seas, and every step of the way I shared my journey with dog-toting fellow travelers. If they ever remake “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” they’ll have to add “fleas.” I’m not exactly sure when it became impossible for large portions of humanity to leave their homes without dragging their pets along with them. I suspect the seeds were planted way back in 1939 when Dorothy tossed Toto into a basket and caught the 5:15 twister to Oz. Still, we managed to stumble through the rest of the Great Depression, all of World War II, the Cold War and disco before Paris Hilton started wearing a dog in a basket to nightclubs as if Shih Tzus are accessories, like the right belt to match your shoes. Dogs have become like American Express cards: Nobody leaves home without Fido.

And it’s not just dogs.

With the world awash in a pandemic of anxiety disorders and neuroses, Big Psychiatry sprung into action by introducing an American Medical Association-approved placebo, the “emotional support animal,” turning the modern commercial passenger jet into an aerial Noah’s Ark.

Tiny dogs wearing brightly colored vests stamped “ESA” now sniff butts at 30,000 feet while nonafflicted fliers share precious legroom with cats, hamsters, bunnies, miniature horses and, I’m not making this up, emotional support turkeys.

What was once a cottage industry is now a booming business, with featuring 381 varieties of ESA vests spread across 16 pages.

And this has to really bug seeing-eye dogs. I mean they had to go to school for months of training, and suddenly a guinea pig gets a window seat?

Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays from 5-10 a.m. on KABC AM (790). He can be reached at