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A Crackdown on Emotional Service Animals May Be on Its Way

A Crackdown on Emotional Service Animals May Be on Its Way
Jeff Edwards

Animals in the cabin are an ever-growing phenomenon. This is an upward trend that – while it shows no sign of stopping – is proving to be divisive. Forbes reports that Congress has successfully passed legislation that could see the DOT amend its rules pertaining to the carriage of service animals.

Animals in the cabin are an ever-growing phenomenon. According to Forbesduring the course of 2017, one million service animals – over three quarters of which are said to be classed as emotional support animals (ESAs) – were transported by the nation’s airlines. This figure, the outlet reports, is set to grow, but ESAs are a divisive issue.

While trained animals such as seeing-eye dogs offer a legitimate service to the passengers they support, Forbes highlights the fact that this sudden proliferation of animals in the cabin isn’t without consequences. In addition to concerns over passengers passing off their pets as service animals in order to dodge fees or a journey in a cargo hold, the outlet also explains that the behavior displayed by some animals both is worrying.

“Airlines report that ESAs frequently urinate, defecate, occupy seats (instead of remaining in the passenger’s foot space), and eat off tray tables. Even worse, ESAs have scratched, growled and barked at other service animals (e.g., seeing-eye dogs), flight attendants, gate agents, and other passengers. Most troubling of all, ESAs have bitten or attacked other passengers, including children, airline employees, and other service animals,” Forbes states.

As the outlet goes on to explain, carriers and airlines are limited in the tools that they can use to vet legitimate service animals from more fraudulent cases. In light of this issue, however, Congress has succeeded in passing legislation that could see the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) amend its regulation pertaining to service animals.

This, importantly would bring these rules in-line with a wider network of federal regulations, including those enforced in “places of public accommodation throughout the U.S., including stores, hotels, stadiums, airports, and other modes of transportation.”

The outlet reports that the DOT’s decision, which is expected to come in 2019, could offer a compromise between those who have a legitimate need to use a service animal while preventing service animal-related fraud.

[Photo: iStock]

View Comments (7)


  1. j2simpso

    November 15, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    There is a difference between service animals and emotional support animals. The former has been trained to perform a specific service task for their owner in accordance with a recognized disability (i.e. blind, PTSD, etc.). They are well behaved and have been trained to work in a variety of public environments. The latter is a poor excuse many use to ensure they don’t have to pay a fee to put Fido in the cargo hold! As we have seen in the forums, these ESAs have been known to go wild biting people or creating a mess around the terminals and on the airplane.

    Sure there are laws that allow pets on planes and in housing environments but if you ask me those laws are discriminatory. Why should people covered by the ADA be challenged by airport personell and scoffed at by the general public for using a service animal they are legally entitled to in order to increase their accessibility? Why should they have to put up with a general public that see their support animal as a “pet” that should be petted and treated like Fido? This is precisely what these ESA laws have allowed.

  2. horseymike

    November 16, 2018 at 5:09 am

    seeing eye dog ok. the rest : take a bus.

  3. Mtothe M

    November 16, 2018 at 6:02 am

    ESA are a joke. Period. Either you need a service animal or you don’t. People will absolutely continue to “need” these fee-free flyers as long as they can get away with it.

    I can tell you one thing: if one of those things EVER bites/attacks me or mine, it will be a dead ESA – without question. NOBODY is entitled to bring an untrained, dangerous and non-hygienic and put my family at risk. NOBODY.

  4. Ifti Khan

    November 16, 2018 at 8:40 am

    Southwest Airlines allows miniature horses as ESA’s!!! There is a photo online of a horse in the aisle. Now that is going a bit far.

  5. Shoredreamer

    November 19, 2018 at 7:30 am

    Let me preface my comments by first saying that these are all obviously my own personal opinions just based upon my own understanding and experience, which admittedly may be limited, but wow, I really dont even understand why there is no training required of these so called ESA’s. Perhaps if they required the training the traditional type service animals have undergone, these things wouldn’t even happen, Perhaps too, if people were required to pay for the training of the ESA to begin with then so many people wouldn’t all of sudden have them and/or claim the need. Admittedly, I have mixed feelings on the issue and just cannot believe there is no legislation or accountability for the training of these type of animals. Is it really true how anyone can just claim their pet is an ESA? I think its absolutely deplorable when these animals dont behave appropriately. I also dont particularly like seemingly having so many animals now on all of my flights, not to mention sometimes in my personal space as well, regardless of fare class too. What about the people with allergies to these animals, is it now just tough luck for them? It seems that nowadays great lengths are taken for those with food allergies but what about those with allergies to animals? Interestingly enough too, in my own personal experience, I have only seen a quite pronounced influx of these ESAs on my US domestic flights and not so much on my international ones. Just my .02…please be gentle on me if your opinions differ entirely, I really mean no harm in making these comments. In fact this is the first time I have even posted such an opinionated remark but I think that is what this forum is for in the first place…please correct me though if I am wrong!!

  6. Justin Cart

    November 19, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    First, there are two animals recognized by the ADA as Service Animals: dogs, and miniature horses, so yes… miniature horses are allowed on planes.
    Second, no Service Animals are required to be trained by paid professionals. They can even be trained by there owner, but they must be trained to provide a specific service.
    Third, “The animal must be under control.” There is an expected code of behavior that will disallow the animal to remain in any public facility, regardless of whether it is truly a Service Animal, or not. True, it is a little harder to kick the animal out of an airplane, but they could certainly be caged, onced they misbehave.
    Forth, Therapy and Emotional Support Animals are not given the same right to public access as Service Animals. Public establishments have every right to deny them entry, and do. I am uncertain about the airlines position concerning the difference.
    I hope this helps makes things more clear.

  7. robomo

    November 21, 2018 at 1:52 pm

    Regulations never suit everybody, someone will feel that they are being discriminated against; one person’s rights are anothers’ burden.
    I suggest the best way of dealing with all service animals is simply to let the market decide. Make it compulsory for support animal owners to pay for insurance with generous benefits payable to any person and/or airline that is affected by animal or passenger misbehaviour. Market forces would soon be apparent in very low premiums for (say) certified guide dogs for the blind but immense premiums for a rattlesnake support animal for an ADHD child (I exaggerate, but you get the point). If fellow-pasengers were assured of being paid $50,000 (emotional harm to the innocent passenger!) plus costs (legal, medical, transport, accommodation for delays, meals etc) for being kicked by an emotional support horse then I would be happy to cuddle up to the horse next time I fly.
    Of course, the $10,000 premium for a horse ($50 million for the rattlesnake) might just persuade the emotionally affected person to take a train instead.

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