Why won’t Hawaiian Airlines let me fly with my service dog?

Joshua Feldman claims that his four-pound Chihuahua, Tiki, is a “service dog.” But on a recent attempt to board a Hawaiian Airlines flight, the gate agent claimed that Tiki is an “emotional support animal.” Who is right?

There’s an important distinction between the two types of animals – and it kept Feldman and his wife from flying that day.

The Feldmans were traveling from Las Vegas to Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines, which they’ve flown several times in the past with no trouble, accompanied by Tiki.

Whenever Feldman flies, he contacts the airline in advance to notify its personnel that he would be traveling with a service dog. At check-in, airline agents ask him about the tasks Tiki performs for him. Feldman responds that he has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that Tiki has been trained to assist him when he has anxiety attacks.

On this occasion, the Feldmans and Tiki were pulled aside as usual and asked about the tasks Tiki performs for him. Then Krystal, the gate agent, walked away from the counter without explanation, leaving Feldman waiting for 30 minutes for her return.

Feldman says that being pulled aside and forced to wait for prolonged periods of time before being allowed to board Hawaiian Airlines flights is a routine experience for him, unlike the respectful treatment he receives from other airlines’ employees.

“What I am describing to you is what I go through with my wife and service dog every time we fly Hawaiian Air flights,” he says. “After being kept waiting for a long period of time, we are then always finally allowed on our flight, which leaves us rushed to make it through TSA security and get to the gate and board, even though we arrive hours ahead of time.”

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In fact, to make matters worse, Feldman says he’s been treated the same way by Hawaiian Airlines check-in staff on several return flights from Honolulu to Las Vegas.

“Hawaiian Airlines check-in agents have made the statement to us that you are lucky we are allowing you to fly back to Las Vegas this time,” he says. “Where’s the Aloha? It’s outrageous.”

But Krystal’s treatment of Feldman was not routine. Upon returning to the check-in counter, she informed Feldman that Tiki was an emotional support animal and not a service dog. Feldman told Krystal that she was incorrect — Tiki is a service dog. He informed Krystal that service dogs are different from emotional support animals.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) defines “service animals” as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” Among the tasks the ADA includes in its definition of service animals is “calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack,” as Feldman claims Tiki does for him. Tiki was wearing a tag with the notation “Service Dog – All Access” on it.

Krystal told Feldman that if he could provide medical documentation that Tiki is an emotional support animal, he would be allowed to take her on the plane. But when Feldman reiterated that Tiki is a service dog and pointed out that the ADA prohibits requests for documentation or proof training for service dogs, Krystal replied “We do not recognize the ADA. You will not be getting on the plane today.”

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Feldman’s wife told Krystal that they had previously been allowed to bring Tiki on past Hawaiian Airlines flights as a service dog and suggested that Krystal look this up on her computer, but Krystal replied that Hawaiian Airlines did not have a computer with the capability of looking up past flights. She repeated that Hawaiian Airlines “does not recognize the ADA” and that the Feldmans would not be boarding their flight. When they asked to speak to a supervisor, Krystal told them that she was the supervisor.

The Feldmans were forced to cancel all of their travel arrangements and book another flight on another airline. When they canceled their hotel reservation, the hotel manager offered to call Hawaiian Airlines on their behalf. Shortly after she made the call, the Feldmans received a call from a resolutions supervisor for Hawaiian Airlines asking how he could resolve their situation.

Feldman explained to him that he and his wife had incurred thousands of dollars in losses as a result of being prevented from boarding their flight. The resolutions supervisor told Feldman that he could only issue a refund for their airfares, which he did. Feldman then told the supervisor that he wanted 250,000 frequent flier miles as well as assurance that the treatment he received from Krystal would not happen to him again. The resolutions supervisor responded that Feldman would have to contact other departments of Hawaiian Airlines because these were things he could not help Feldman with.

Unfortunately for Feldman, many businesses are becoming wary of accommodating service dogs because of the growing phenomenon of fake service dogs. Because the ADA prohibits businesses from asking for medical documentation, identification, or other proof that an animal is a service dog and only allows them to ask if the dog is a service dog and what tasks it performs for its owner, many persons are taking advantage of the law to pass pets or emotional support animals off as service dogs.

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Hawaiian Airlines is standing firm in its position that Tiki is an emotional support animal, and that its refusal to let Feldman fly with Tiki is justified because Feldman provided no medical documentation of a physical, psychological or psychiatric need for an emotional support animal.

Feldman might have escalated his complaint to higher-level executives of Hawaiian Airlines using our company contacts, but he asked our advocates for assistance.

But we don’t think we can help Feldman with his request for 250,000 miles. There’s a wrinkle in Feldman’s argument that he doesn’t have to provide documentation for Tiki, of which he may not have been aware.

Because Tiki has been trained to help Feldman with PTSD, she might be classified as a “psychiatric service animal.” The Air Carrier Access Act indicates that airlines are allowed to require documentation that a dog is a psychiatric service animal. Feldman didn’t have that documentation with him.

Our advocates suggested that Feldman file a disability complaint with the Department of Transportation and post in our forums about his case, although he hasn’t done so as of this writing. But we hope he gets documentation so that he never again experiences the treatment he received from Krystal.

Tiki is:

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

  • Rebecca

    The law is very clear here, and the OP is mistaken. An airline absolutely may requite documentation for an emotional support animal:

    “With respect to an animal
    used for emotional support (which need not
    have specific training for that function),
    airline personnel may require current
    documentation (i.e., not more than one year
    old) on letterhead from a mental health
    professional stating (1) that the passenger has
    a mental health-related disability; (2) that
    having the animal accompany the passenger
    is necessary to the passenger’s mental health
    or treatment or to assist the passenger (with
    his or her disability); and (3) that the
    individual providing the assessment of the
    passenger is a licensed mental health
    professional and the passenger is under his
    or her professional care. Airline personnel
    may require this documentation as a
    condition of permitting the animal to
    accompany the passenger in the cabin. The
    purpose of this provision is to prevent abuse
    by passengers that do not have a medical
    need for an emotional support animal and to
    ensure that passengers who have a legitimate
    need for emotional support animals are
    permitted to travel with their service animals
    on the aircraft. Airlines are not permitted to
    require the documentation to specify the type
    of mental health disability, e.g., panic


  • finance_tony

    Agreed, the Air Carrier Access Act, not the ADA as the OP asserted.

    Is it possible for Hawaiian Airlines to just ban them from flying their planes? Far fewer headaches and trouble in the long run.

  • cscasi

    It is a shame that this happened to Mr. Feldman; especially since he had flown on Hawaiian Airlines several times before and had (after questioning) been allowed to take his small dog on board. While the ADA has stated that people do not have to provide proof to the airlines that their “service animals” are actually “service animals”. “many businesses are becoming wary of accommodating service dogs because of the growing phenomenon of fake service dogs. Because the ADA prohibits businesses from asking for medical documentation, identification, or other proof that an animal is a service dog and only allows them to ask if the dog is a service dog and what tasks it performs for its owner, many persons are taking advantage of the law to pass pets or emotional support animals off as service dogs.”
    Over the past years since the ADA ruling, more and more people abuse the “service” animal designation and bring on all sorts of personal pets because they do not have to provide anything to the airlines. More passengers are getting upset, the airlines lose revenue because the per does not have to be checked and flown in a crate) and on and on.
    I have noted on flights that most “service animals” are identified with vests that indicates what they are and their owners usually have documentation with them to prove the animal’s status (even though it is not required by ADA.
    I am beginning to side with the airlines over this issue because of the abuse. While anyone can get some sort of documentation to prove this or that (fake or make it up themselves) there should be some sort of standardization required for “service animals”, “therapy animals”, emotional support animals” or whatever. Until this is done, these problems will only increase.
    Finally, based on this article, there is no way to really know if Mr. Feldman’s dog is really a “service animal” or “emotional support animal”. He states the dog was trained. Was it professionally trained by a recognized group that trains dogs for this sort of work? Has it been certified? Without any of this, we actually cannot say whether Tiki is actually a “emotional support” dog or a fake one.

  • Rebecca

    Yes, exactly. The ADA doesn’t apply to airports/airplanes. The ACAA does, as complaints/compliance are handled by the DOT and FAA:


    One other thing. There’s all sorts of quarantine rules for flying dogs (or any animal) in and out of Hawaii, which I’m sure plays a role here too.


  • MarkKelling

    The OP states that every time they fly Hawaiian they are delayed and harassed about the dog even if they are finally allowed to board. Then why continue to fly Hawaiian? There are plenty other airlines going to Hawaii.

    I fly Hawaiian a lot to and from Hawaii as well as inter island. I have never had any issues and I feel they are a good airline.

  • MarkKelling

    The ones who fake their pets as service animals just so they don’t have to pay the pet fee are ruining it for the real ones. It would be best if there was some sort of official registration for real service animals along with an ID card for that animal to show they are real. Those with the official ID are real, others are not This would eliminate a lot of these situations.

  • The Original Joe S

    Why go to Hawaii, where they don’t like mainlanders, but love the mainlanders’ MONEY, when there are other places with pineapples, coconuts, palm trees, beaches which are much cheaper, and they like you?

  • John Keahey

    He should either get complete notarized documentation as to his condition and the dog’s status or simply budget in the pet fee to carry on a four-pound Chihuahua. Simple. I wonder why he seems unwilling to do that since they go so often. Surely his condition can be documented by professionals. Sure beats going through that 30-minute wait every time or encountering a gate agent like Krystal.

  • sirwired

    Agreed that this is a matter for the DOT to handle; there are actual legal requirements to be interpreted here, real financial penalties, etc.

    I also agree that the real villains here are those with fake “service animals”. If this keeps up there WILL be laws passed for documentation requirements, certifications, a cumbersome bureaucracy, etc., which is precisely what the those provisions of the ADA/ACA were meant to avoid.

  • Bill___A

    You have to be able to produce documentation for pretty much everything else. This is so that people do not get a child rate or a seniors rate without qualifying. People have to have correct documentation to use a disabled parking space – and this is to prevent abuse. There is absolutely no reason why animals should be exempt from such things. They need health certificates and documentation for any special training/purposes they are to be used for. Furthermore, there needs to be some further examination about the whole emotional support animal issue. People should not be able to pick any animal they choose, it should be a list, and the list should take into consideration not only the person needing emotional support but the needs of others too. Making other people uncomfortable is not a good way of making yourself comfortable. By having a list of animals that qualify and having also the requirement for certifications, people can make the appropriate choices when choosing an animal for emotional support. Is the only reason you can’t have an emotional support elephant due to the animal’s size? What if airline were required to provide space?

    I do not agree with the laws, or lack thereof and even if there are not requirements, one would think that voluntarily submitting documentation in a legitimate case would speed your way along. A little cooperation goes a long way.

  • Rebecca

    The problem with that is it shifts the cost and responsibility to the disabled. Which is very, very unfair. Certainly a solution is needed – personally, I don’t believe emotional support animals need to be going everywhere. I think it’s ridiculous. My experience (which I admit is anecdotal) is a pit bull puppy at a military funeral and yippy dogs in carts when I managed the front end in retail. And I will readily admit also that I am not a small dog person. I can’t stand little dogs.

  • John McDonald

    what happens when animal wants to do number 1’s or number 2s ?

    Don’t think any animals are allowed in the cabin on any commercial domestic flights in Australia. They certainly aren’t allowed in the cabin on any international flights into Australia, although that c grade actor Johnny Depp tried to smuggle one into Australia & got off scott free. They should have jailed him, as an example. He’s only an actor.

  • John McDonald

    when you say the law. you are obviously referring to some U.S. law. There’s no international law.

  • John McDonald

    HA can ban whoever they want (for national security)

  • PsyGuy

    The LW is saying he’s not an ESA, but a service dog.

  • PsyGuy

    Well there is in the EU, which in so far as comprising multiple countries is sort of international.

  • PsyGuy


  • PsyGuy

    What’s the real cost though, a doctor visit and a piece of paper?

  • PsyGuy


  • PsyGuy

    Standard technique is to lay down a few sheets of paper and have the animal do number 2 in the lavatory.

  • PsyGuy

    It’s a pet. Sorry, my position is if you’ve had this much trouble, given the cost of tickets get the certificate or documentation and move on with your life. Most problems for many people are those of their own creation. Many people are there own worst enemy.

  • Rebecca

    Yes, I am. He is American and it’s a domestic flight.

  • Rebecca

    The ACAA specifically distinguishes that a service dog whose only purpose is emotional support is not classified as a service animal. I read through the guidelines. If he tells the airline the task the dog performs supports an emotional purpose, the ACAA clearly states and gives guidance that the airline is able to request documents. It isn’t a service dog in an airport or on an airplane. That’s the law. There’s all sorts of precedent and very very specific guidance given in this case.

  • Rebecca

    Yes, I agree. The reason I said that is because a disabled person with a real service dog pointed it out to me before. At an airport, actually. It does seem unfair that because so many take advantage, the people that are genuinely in need of a service animal should have a further burden. The lady I spoke to pointed out that something simple to you or I, driving to the doctor, isn’t necessarily simple for someone that requires a wheelchair for mobility, for example. They’re also often on a fixed income.

    I wouldn’t have thought of this, to be honest, so I felt like I should point it out.

  • John Baker

    Reading the guidance from HI, I’m not sure his dog qualifies for a quarantine waiver. Beyond that, they require paperwork even if it’s a service animal that he didn’t seem to have.

  • Bill___A

    Every service animal (or comfort animal) should have to be embedded with a chip. That chip should be linked to a certificate which is authenticated and linked to a database,which shows the owner is the passenger on the PNR. There doesn’t have to be a whole lot of personal information, just what’s required to verify the animal. I’ve had it with people complaining about privacy concerns. If you want to bring an animal onto a plane or into a restaurant or into a food store, then out of consideration for others, it better have the proper health checks, training, and proof that you are allowed to do this. Sometimes the lawmakers and others get so caught up in privacy that they forget about the rights of others. I have a right to be assured that the service animal sitting beside me is in fact a service animal and not a poorly trained pet. And anyone who is bringing such on the plane should be more than happy to be able to prove it to the airline.

    I hope there is not some sort of “comments” war on this. I am not a lawmaker. I am not a medical professional. I am just a person with an opinion who sees the current situation as absolutely absurd, and from seeing the percentage of votes suspecting this animal is a pet, I can’t be the only one.

  • James Moninger

    Correct, Rebecca. The State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture requires animals coming into Hawaii quarantined up to 120 days. There are steps pet owners can take to minimize the quarantine period and sometimes even have the pet released to the owner at the time of arrival. Until a handful of years ago, animals were not allowed to fly in the passenger cabin of aircraft traveling from the mainland US to Hawaii. Period.

    I’m confident animal quarantine regulations played a role in this scenario.

  • PsyGuy

    Okay I can agree that there are some additional burdens that maybe I don’t appreciate but let’s look at it this way, this disabled person has to jump through some kind of documentation and application process to get a handicapped placard/sticker, this process would be less arduous. It doesn’t even require them to do anything but make a phone call. Call doctor’s office to request a letter or document and at the very least they can mail the letter to the PAX. When you get it take a picture of it on your phone to show any counter and gate agent, and carry a folded up copy of it with your passport . I get this is a burden, but compared to the trouble and risk of going through this every time you fly, it’s got to be easier to just get the documentation.

  • PsyGuy

    So I know this is horrible, but I’d just make up a story that the dog is a scent detecting dog, that your disability is a lack of being able to smell things such as smoke from fire, and the dog does that and indicates a the threat or danger with a distinctive bark. That or just make something else up, use different language that doesn’t trigger the “emotional support rules”.

  • Rebecca

    Shifting the burden to the folks that train the dogs actually makes the most sense to me. Real service dogs, that perform traditional service dog tasks, require extensive professional training. Embedding the info in a microchip and providing some sort of certificate when the dog is placed in a home would likely be the easiest way to go about this.

    It isn’t just you. Like most things in life, a few people ruin it for everyone else.

  • Rebecca

    I know exactly what you mean. I suspect in this case, it has something to do with it being a 4 lb dog. I have a black lab/bernese mountain dog (which, coincidentally are bred specifically to be service dogs, which we learned after we got him). If I walked my dog through the airport, since he knows how to behave, he would look the part. I suspect it’s difficult to make that argument for a toy breed.

  • PsyGuy

    I’d think the same thing, a lap dog doesn’t do much in the way of service, and I can understand that airline and airport staff are probably tired of it too.

  • DChamp56

    If he’s harassed every time he flies, why not just carry the paper and show it and get through the line faster? It’d be like a “Get out of jail free” card. Something’s wrong about this maybe…

  • Lindabator

    that would be the best resolution – I remember when I worked at United, having to book training flights for the dogs from Denver to Aspen, etc — the airport in Denver saw a LOT of these dogs. :)

  • Algebralovr

    The problem is the disconnect between the ADA and the ACAA.
    The dog may very well be a real service dog. They are not all labs and goldens. Unfortunately, the legislation called the Air Carrier Access Act states that a psychiatric service dog requires documentation, just as an Emotional Support Animal does, while a service dog trained for any other reason does not.

    Under the ADA, anyone who has a disability can train their own Service Dog. It is a lot of work. It is a sticky issue, as a service dog partner is allowed to bring their dog into a business without documentation. Just because they have documentation doesn’t even mean their dog is well trained!

    There is not a good solution.

  • Bill___A

    I guess they should have someone sign the documentation who is at risk of losing their professional designation if they are found to be doing it improperly. There are corrupt people who will do their best to help cheaters in exchange for money. There should be some severe penalties associated with falsifying the documentation.

  • Bill___A

    The good solution is to fix the laws, penalize the cheats, and hold people accountable.

  • Bill___A

    I’m starting to like Krystal.

  • Bill___A

    It isn’t okay…

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