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In-Flight Emotional-Support Animals: A Right or a Nuisance?

A lot of travelers have been complaining about the abuse of the comfort animals policy during flights.

The carrying of emotional support animals during flights is being challenged by some passengers. USA Today reports that there have been several complaints of situations in which animals have been left to roam the cabin freely during the flight – a situation that may upset other travelers.

Maureen Van Dorn, who recently flew from Tucson to Chicago to attend a funeral, was seated next to a very large Dalmatian. “I was shocked by the size of this dog,” she said. “When the traveler in seat 3A stood up, the dog was able to put his paws on the man’s shoulders.”

The dog had no identification as a service animal, nor did he wear a vest indicating the reason he was there.

The documentation requirements as set forth by the DOT are relatively light; passengers require either an approved identification card, informal documentation such as harnesses printed with identification, tags or “credible verbal assurances.” According to DOT policy as reported by USA Today, “airlines must allow registered service animals to accompany their owners anywhere they choose to sit on the condition that the aircraft aisles and surrounding areas remain clear, and the service animal must be trained to behave properly in public settings.”

“Lately, a lot of people have been posing their regular family pets as service animals,” pet expert Dana Humphrey says. “That’s a big no-no.”

While emotional-support animals are very important to some of the passengers, they also cause discomfort for other passengers that sometimes are allergic or are just plain uncomfortable traveling with an animal on the next seat.

“Those who insist they need an emotional support animal to fly do so ostensibly in order to avoid having to take medication,” says Toni Vitanza, a flight attendant. “But the same folks have no problem suggesting that those with allergies pop a pill — even when that pill makes driving to a business meeting unsafe or performing well at said meeting impossible due to side effects.”

For reasons like this, several airlines want to tighten the reins on the use of in-flight emotional-support animals. On October 12, a Department of Transportation advisory committee is scheduled decide whether emotional support animals qualify as service animals.

[Photo: Service Dog Certifications]

Comments are Closed.
rec October 21, 2016

As mentioned by others, there is a difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. Service animals serve specific purposes and are limited to dogs and miniature horses. Service animals are specifically protected by the ADA. Emotional support animals are not. The ADA does not apply to airlines. Airlines have their own separate regulation, the Air Carrier Access Act which does permit emotional support animals. If we want to get this changed, we need to get Congress involved and make them realize that ESAs are a sham and that the regulations involving animals on flights should mirror the definition under ADA.

lamphs October 17, 2016

I've commented on this subject in a couple of other threads. Too repeat...big difference between true service animals and "ESAs". I recognize and respect that there are legitimate ESAs. Recent situation...I was in boarding group 2 on UA, ORD-IAD, and boarding was called for passengers with disabilities, etc., a young (likely teens) person, jumps to the front of the line, with a backpack, yoga mat, fancy water bottle, and a medium-size dog with no special identification, and boards. I asked about it - ESA was the answer. (And she was just chatting with a group of people who I assume were friends or family.) The real answer is that someone didn't want Scruffy to be lonely in cargo thus saving a lot of money. I have also been told that if I were seated in the vicinity of someone with an animal to which I may be allergic, I HAVE TO MOVE. So again, PC, let's not hurt anyone's feelings, the 99.9% is potentially inconvenienced for the 0.1%. I want to make clear that I have no issue with true service animals and I will do whatever is necessary to assist that passenger/animal. But I don't do scams.

loridf October 15, 2016

I sat next to a lovely couple in a 3 across in Comfort Economy on Delta. They had their small dog under the seat, but immediately took it out and explained to me how they felt it was "unfair" for their dog to be under the seat for 4 hours! So they got one of the "faux" comfort dog certifications so it could be "fair" to their little dog. They boasted about how easy it was. I had no real complaints about the dog, except how he stared at me with his begging brown eyes when I ate my pretzels. The owners thought it was cute. I am polite and try to feel and think the best in everyone, even complimenting them that their dog was well behaved. I find it, however, inherently dishonest. Are these people like this in the rest of their lives? What if I were allergic would they care? If there were a standard for a true service dog, I would mind. If a person really appeared disabled, blind, deaf, etc. I would not mind. But these people who felt their dog was "entitled" to sit on the seat, have really bugged me. Next time I may not be so polite.

puntamita October 15, 2016

gwynedd_gal- maybe your family should take a ship or train.

gwynedd_gal October 14, 2016

We had such an issue on a recent long flight. Woman next to me had a comfort animal. She cuddled it all during the flight: we had an asthmatic child with us. He was on his inhaler. Who wins? She could have taken anti-anxiety meds OR---used hypnosis therapy which is VERY effective for flight anxiety. But instead, an animal. It was a darling, well-behaved doggy but that's not the point. Her rights to be free of anxiety do not trump the rights of people to BREATHE. Practical, common sense would hold that no you cannot take dog on plane unless you are blind. If you are nervous, there are other therapies. Or ships or trains.