Let’s ban emotional-support animals from the skies

Is it time to ground emotional-support animals for good?

Many airline passengers say so. Maureen Van Dorn, flying from Tucson to Chicago for a funeral recently, was surprised by a large Dalmatian next to her in seat 3B.

“I was shocked by the size of this dog,” she says. “When the traveler in seat 3A stood up, the dog was able to put his paws on the man’s shoulders.”

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The canine, which did not wear a vest or an ID that would have identified it as a service animal, sprawled into Van Dorn’s personal space, its tail whipping against her legs the entire flight.

“This made me very uncomfortable,” she says.

Many airlines want to jettison these comfort animals, too. A Department of Transportation advisory committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 12 to decide whether an emotional-support animal is a service animal. Airlines are pushing the government to adopt a more restrictive definition.

It’s important to acknowledge the passengers who fly with conditions that require they bring an emotional-support cat, dog or pig that can offer a therapeutic benefit to their owner through companionship. But isn’t it also time to stand up for the needs of passengers with pet allergies, or just those who would prefer the fur not to fly? Talk to airline crew members and other passengers who have flown with a comfort animal, and you’ll probably arrive at that conclusion, too: The animals need to be contained in a carrier or stay home.

No one knows exactly how many Americans fly with an emotional-support animal. Federal regulations require airlines to allow dogs and other service animals used by people with a disability to accompany them on a flight. The documentation requirements are minimal — either a service animal identification card, “other” written documentation or the presence of harnesses or markings on harnesses, tags or the “credible verbal assurances.” What’s more, airlines have to allow a service animal to accompany a qualified individual in any seat, unless the animal blocks an aisle or other area that must remain unobstructed, or the animal is not trained to behave properly in a public setting.

In 2003, the DOT revised its policy on service animals to include emotional-support animals. That’s when the problems started.

“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.”

Air travelers can see both sides of this issue. They know some of their fellow passengers have disorders that require treatment, and comfort animals reduce or eliminate their need for a pharmaceutical solution. That’s really beside the point.

The real question is: Who has more rights? The airline passengers and their creatures of comfort or the other passengers?

“I love animals,” says Nicole Landreneau, who works for a Web design company in New Orleans and flies often. “But I’m very allergic to cats and certain dogs, especially in a closed space. When I fly, I’m concerned that someone near me is going to have a cat that is going to set off my allergies. I try to be proactive with medication, but you can never be 100% certain.”

Comfort animals can cause other serious discomforts. It’s no exaggeration to say that in addition to the standard pets used as therapy animals, many unconventional creatures have made an appearance on a plane, including pigs, monkeys and turkeys.

Some of the loudest critics of the emotional-support animals are themselves responsible pet owners who pay for their dogs and cats to fly in a kennel. Ray Belmonte, a physician from Chicago, recently shelled out an extra $95 for his dog to fly with him.

He frets that travelers taking advantage of the situation are “doing a grave injustice to those who truly rely on legitimate service animals.”

Some say tightening the rules would solve the problem. “There doesn’t have to be a winner in accommodating pets and people, but there should be more stringent rules in the legitimacy of the service animal,” says Maggie Espinosa, author of The Privileged Pooch: Luxury Travel With Your Pet in Southern California.

Crew members say enough is enough. Toni Vitanza, a flight attendant for a major airline who lives in Clemson, S.C., says she’s had too many run-ins with comfort animals — sometimes literally. On a recent flight, she nearly mowed down an emotional-support lapdog that was running free. Mostly, she sees passengers with these animals treating them like beloved pets, which in the end is probably what they are.

“Those who insist they need an emotional support animal to fly do so ostensibly in order to avoid having to take medication,” she says. “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.”

Van Dorn, the passenger seated next to the emotional-support Dalmatian, complained to her airline, which sent her a form apology. “With regard to the issue concerning animals allowed out of their kennels,” it noted, “regulations require that airlines must allow emotional support animals to travel in the cabin; these animals may ride on the customer’s lap.” The airline credited her with 20,000 bonus miles as a “goodwill gesture.”

That’s a good start. It seems as if on this issue at least, airlines and a majority of passengers have a common cause. The DOT, in its efforts to accommodate passengers with disabilities, created a bigger problem than it solved. Emotional-support animals have a place on the ground but not in the air.

Should emotional-support animals be designated as service animals for the purposes of flying?

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What to do if you’re stuck next to an animal?

• Don’t wait. If you’re seated next to a passenger with a pet on a full flight, don’t wait to speak up. You or the passenger with the emotional-support animal can be reaccommodated on the next flight. This is particularly true for allergy sufferers.

• Ask to move. Flight attendants will relocate you if there’s another seat in your class of service. If you discover a cat, dog or snake in the seat next to you, that’s the fastest way out.

• Ask the owner to cage it. If the flight has departed and there are no free seats, you’ll have to negotiate with the pet owner. If you’re at an impasse, ask a flight attendant to referee the argument. You may be able to trade seats with another passenger, with the help of a crew member.

92 thoughts on “Let’s ban emotional-support animals from the skies

  1. Like a lot of issues today, I don’t think that the real answer is, or should be a all-or-none remedy. I think there’s workable,do-abe solutions that fairly balances everyone’s needs; be that who use LEGITIMATE service/emotional support animals, those who have allergies to animals and airlines.

    I respect ones right to keep medical issues confidential and I don’t think airlines should get into the “why” you claim to need such an animal or accommodation. Therefore, just as a off-the-top-of-my-head idea, I think it might be regulated like many states do for so-called handicapped/disabled parking permits/plates.

    A person requesting to have and use a service/support animal must get a certification from a state-approved medical provider (whose records and such would then be afforded privacy rights) that the applicant meets the objectively defined standards of a person who must use a service/support animal.

    I also think along with this, the safety regulatory, within the US, that would be the FAA, needs to be more clear only EXACTLY what or how these animal are dealt with on-board, such as what space may the animal occupy or not, what rights to those who have medical conditions against animals have as well, etc. I’d also want the FAA to address real-world sanctions for those who make false accommodation claims and/or do not comply with the safety or operational rules the FAA may set forth.

    In the end, I DO support the use of service animals and see it as a way to enhance and promote the freedom of movement for those with legitimate and qualified conditions, BUT.. I don’t think that this is a wholly unrestricted right and others also have rights as well.. in the end I see a solutions where everyone’s rights AND responsibilities are better defined and enforced is the best outcome here.

  2. One of my business colleagues had the family pet certified as a comfort animal. She bought the credentials on line and now the family dog flies free at all times and always in first class, It is certainly an abuse of what was intended to assist passengers with real emotional problems–something my colleague admits she does not have. Stricter certification standards might curb this problem, but it seems unlikely that the government will be able to do much about it without violating privacy laws.

    1. I am a member of several Facebook groups for fans of a particular breed of dog, and due to their gentle nature, dogs of this breed are often certified as therapy dogs, visiting people in hospitals, nursing homes, etc. I have seen suggestions of buying certificates online for this so that their non-certified dog can fly in the cabin without having to go in a carrier under the seat. Thankfully the majority of people quickly condemn that idea, as do I, but it’s not an uncommon suggestion when someone asks for tips on flying with their dog.

      The amount of work that goes into having an animal properly certified as a service and/or therapy animal is astonishing, and I don’t want to make that harder by suggesting these certifications be highly regulated (nor do I like the idea of more regulations in general). Perhaps more needs to be required than some unverifiable paperwork that anyone with a little time on their hands can create and a convincing demeanor can present.

      1. I think only a LEGITIMATE form to be used would suffice, and be issued by a medical doctor not some online quack. Your PET is your pet, NOT a service animal – so people need to stop being so cheap/selfish – the world really does NOT revolve around them.

      2. The problem is that there is very little training, if any, required for an emotional support animal–a category quite different from service or therapy animals. The latter two have stringent requirements. So-called emotional support animals do not. And that is the category that needs certification standards.

      3. I, too, have a friend who has pet therapy dog and they volunteer to visit patients at our local hospital. I was astonished at the paperwork, training and health exams required by her and her dog BEFORE they received certification by one of the reputable canine therapy associations. And she her dog must be re-certified annually.

    2. I would avoid a business colleague who is this deceptive. Is it possible she has emotional problems and doesn’t want to tell you.

  3. I don’t have any problem with the idea of emotional support animals. But there need to be strict rules as to the size and behavior of such animals, along with requiring those with emotional support animals to have a letter from a physician testifying to it’s necessity. And, perhaps, a letter or photo ID card from some FAA-approved organization stating that this particular animal has been evaluated and is suitable for flight. (As in, calm around strangers, won’t poop or pee on the floor, does not need to be sedated during flight, etc.)

    Really, I’d no problem with more stringent documentation requirements for service animals in general… I’ve seen multiple animals with a “Service Animal in Training” harness or vest on that look more than a bit too old to be training for anything.

    1. Not that I disagree necessarily. But the problem with paying a physician to certify something is that there’s always going to be those few guys that will do anything for a paycheck (which certainly isn’t limited to any field). It would have to be strictly regulated, like for example physicians that do certified physicals for DOT or immigration. And that’s not worth tax dollars, quite frankly. The examples I gave are public health issues, while I don’t really think this is. You can’t have a person with narcolepsy driving a semi or someone with an eradicated disease passing it along to everyone. Emotional support animals just don’t have that ability to affect others safety.

      1. I don’t think anything so elaborate as Dept. of Labor authorized doctors is necessary (there’d have to be a huge network of them covering all kinds of specialties; far more than the current network of FAA or DOT docs.)

        But it shouldn’t be too hard to find organizations in each state that could evaluate service animals and proclaim them fit for duty.

  4. I think only service animals, which are defined by law as dogs, should be allowed in the cabin. This won’t stop the tide of abuse but it will help. No more pigs, snakes, etc.

    It’s completely shameful people abuse laws meant to help those with disabilities.

    1. There are service monkeys who are trained to be hands for quadriplegics, seeing eye horses, etc. It’s not only dogs that are service animals or trained in that capacity. I do draw the line, who needs a 200lb emotional support pig?

        1. There is a special category for miniature horses, that is a little more specific


          In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the
          Department’s revised ADA regulations have a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.) Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. The regulations set out four
          assessment factors to assist entities in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated in their facility. The assessment factors are
          (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4) whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.

          1. I am focused on the last factor–not compromise legitimate safety requirements. Would seem to preclude them from a plane. I know they’re the size of dogs, but would you really want one on your lap? Seems to me the horses would be in the aisle, and that is a safety concern.

          2. Not if they’re in the bulk head. They could sit/lay/stand there & be out of the aisle. I’ve flown with a great dane & no one realized he was on board until we went to the restroom &/got off the flight if they didn’t see us preboard. Arrangements can be made. Many of us are willing to compromise. We understand fear, allergies, etc. If needed & the airlines were to provide a safe carrier I’m sure some of us would be willing to have our SAs go into cargo if that was the only way. Believe it or not there is mention of that in the ACA. Problem is that the airlines don’t use the rights they have.

        1. A dog’s working years are about 6 when it comes to active working, A mini horse can live to be 25-30 years and can have a working like span of 15-20. So, yes, mini horses do make sense and they are on par size wise with a lab.

  5. Yes, emotional support animals should be classified as service animals and should go through the same certification process. And I mean a process beyond simply putting a vest on your pig, pony, or bobcat.

    And as far as the comment in the article about asking your fellow traveler to “cage it” — ain’t gonna happen since every emotional support animal I have seen on planes (and that has been a lot of them) don’t have cages since the owners treat them like service animals which do not require cages.

  6. Uncaged animals on a flight should be specifically trained for service by an organization like Seeing Eye. The problem is that there is no standard ID we can clip to a dog’s jacket, and under ADA rules staff are forced to accept all animals as service animals.

    1. The ADA does allow employees to ask what specific tasks a service animal is trained to perform. (The ADA does not address Emotional Support Animals at all; that is an FAA thing.) While somebody need not present documentation for their service animal, it needs to be credible. (As in, a yappy poodle peeing on the gate area carpet cannot plausibly claim to be a seizure alert dog.)

      Airlines ARE allowed to request documentation for an ESA under FAA rules, but it is of course easy to fake it.

  7. Rules that depend on honesty will be broken by the dishonest. Increasing the rules to remove the dishonest only makes it harder to be honest and will not thwart the dishonest. When narcissistic emotional people (and we all know them) demand an exception for themselves, they really don’t care about anyone else. Beating the system is in itself emotionally supportive.

    Stricter rules are necessary, of course, but don’t expect them to cure the incurably self involved or the dishonest cheater.

  8. This just happened to me on a Delta flight. Woman in front of me had her dog in sestvwuth her with the dogs filthy tail sticking out between the seat into my seat back pocket. She was very lucky the stranger sitting next to her didn’t care that the dog was sitting half on his lap.

    I tweeted Delta while on the flight and they said they could not insist emotional support pets had to be in a carrier.

    It’s a good thing she was in front of me and not next to me.

  9. I’m just going to say it. Emotional support animals are a big, fat crock. I will admit my bias, and here’s my story about my first experience with an emotional support animal:

    My husband has a family member that brought a pit bull she was training to be her “support animal” for “anxiety” to a wake, funeral, and restaurant following the service. The deceased was a decorated wwii veteran, and the poor dog was in a panic during the military funeral. If you’ve ever been to a military funeral, imagine a howling, yipping puppy during this solemn occasion. It was the absolute height of disrespect.

    I think most people think emotional support animals are a crock. But they’re afraid it’s not PC to say that. So I’m saying it. It’s a big, fat, stinking crock. A real service dog is trained and is actually necessary to assist a truly disabled person. Surely, we’re all ok with a dog assisting a blind, paralyzed, etc person.

    I have a 100 lb dog. I love my dog. But I would never in a million years subject other people in an enclosed space to him. He’s very well trained, my kids literally pull food out of his mouth. But some people are afraid of dogs, which is something you learn when you have a big dog. True service animals, that’s one thing. But emotional support animals are complete bs. There’s absolutely no reason someone needs their emotional support dog on an airplane. A seeing eye dog or a dog that assists someone who is paralyzed or the like? That makes sense. The person can need that dog on the plane, emotional support animals, not so much.

    1. Emotional support animal is just another name for pet. They aren’t service animals.

      I am the parent of a special-needs child. He’s afraid of other dogs but adores our own. It helps him cope after a long day at school; it stands with him at the bus stop; is lies next to him while he plays.

      But our dog doesn’t perform life-activities for him. It doesn’t open doors, pick things up, or anything like a service animal would. When we fly, our dog is boarded at our vet.

    2. You talk about a military funeral being disrupted, which has led you to call emotional support animals a big fat crock. Would you be willing to say that to the thousands of soldiers suffering from PTSD, whose lives have been saved by an emotional support animal? They’ve helped many get off drugs, which they military threw at them. They calm the vet from nightmares and loud noises, reminders from the battlefield. You can’t see the disability, but it’s real and one no one would want to have.

      Another patient currently using one, is a single person, who I would describe as a survivor from a cruel life. Yet, she persevered. Recently diagnosed with stage IV cancer, she has a life estimation of 1 year, but as always, that’s a estimation. She does not, as of yet, show any outward signs, you’d never know. We gladly did any and all paperwork for her dog as emotional support animal, so she can do some of the things she wants to do. Like, go to Hawaii.

      Trouble is, there is no standard for this category. Training is wildly expensive. If a medical professional can attest to the need, then the state can issue a simple card, like a handicapped parking card, for a nominal fee. Will there be abusers? Sure, there are always are, but they do not outnumber those with true need. You have to remember, disability is not always visible.

    3. Well said! If you’re afraid of flying, then don’t fly. Apparently the ADA does not recognize these fakers but the FAA does. What kind of nonsense is this?

    4. OK. Emotional Support Animals aren’t a crock. There are legitimate needs for them.

      However, the rights are granted to handlers to use Service Animals. ESAs are not to be taken into public. Now, for whatever reason, the ACA has permitted ESAs.

      Regarding your husband’s family member. If it was to be an ESA that dog should not have been at the service. If the dog is in training to be her Psychiatric Service Animal then depending upon your local laws the dog could be permitted in public while training. Ideally, the dog would’ve been temperance tested, stc & some training started to where the dog was ready to be quiet & still for that period of time. If it had not been exposed to the noise of a military funeral then she should have been correcting the dog to be quiet, etc. As a courtesy I would hope she would’ve moved away to the back at least if she was having difficulties accomplishing that.

      Training a Service Animal takes time & a lot of exposure. It also takes patience & understanding from those around as well as the handler/trainer. Unfortunately, training isn’t perfect or easy. Things like you describe could happen. That’s why some dogs wash out. It’s training. The thing is most people might see the puppy raisers at most….not the full process, the exposure to noises & teaching the dog not to respond or how to respond, etc.

  10. “But the same folks have no problem suggesting that those with allergies pop a pill” Seriously? Why doesn’t the person that needs the support take a pill?
    Lets look at it another way. Inconvenience 200+ people, or 1?

    1. That quote bothered me, too, but mainly because I suspect that many people who TRULY need this kind of support animal are themselves taking medication. It was a flippant, unnecessary remark in the article that undermined lots of other good points.

  11. There is an unspoken advantage to these service animals — if you are flying across the Andes with the Uruguayan rugby team…..

  12. Seriously, you ask “The real question is: Who has more rights? The airline passengers and their creatures of comfort or the other passengers?”

    I’ve asked a variant of this before — if it comes down to a passenger with severe allergies vs a passenger with an emotional support animal, who gets bumped, and I’ve been told the passenger with allergies would be the bumped passenger. So, clearly, the emotional support animal trumps the human being.

  13. On another note, I vote that any pet as cute as the one in the picture accompanying this article should be allowed to fly for any reason, as long as it’s well behaved, and the owner will let other passengers pet it on request. 🙂

  14. Emotional support animals are not covered by the ADA, and are specifically excluded as service animals. Service animals, under the ADA, must be trained to do a specific task (such as alert for seizures) and can’t be there simply for the comfort of their owner. Under the ADA most businesses are allowed to restrict access to people with EMA’s. For example, hotels that aren’t pet friendly are not required to accommodate guests with EMA’s under the ADA. I’m actually surprised that the DOT allows ESA’s, I thought they followed the guidelines of the ADA.


    1. Carriers have to comply with two sets — each one a bit different – of regulations.. For most aspects that occur on the ground, the more well known ADA usually applies.. but ON or IN the aircraft, then that’s commonly addressed under language in the Air Carrier Access Act (14 CFR 382)

      While the deregulation of the industry meant that states/counties/cities had far less say in how airlines now operated, many aspects of their ground operations are still subject to state law (examples would be the licensing and service of alcohol in ground-based clubs/lounges and in many states the mandate that any scales used for commerce – like bag weights – be calibrated by a state certified entity and with record retention)


    2. I read a series of articles a few months ago about people that use emotional support animals to circumvent rules about pets in subsidized housing. If a landlord owns more than a certain number of units, even if they have a pet free policy, they can still be required to let a tennant keep an emotional support animal. They can’t even charge a fee or deposit for the renter having an animal. Another example, as many have pointed out here, of a rule intended to help individuals that really need service animals (which I am sure 90%+ of people have no problem with) being exploited by people that think they’re somehow above the rules the rest of us have to follow.

  15. I have no problem with service animals, especially for people with vision problems. There are regulations for having a service animal and they wear identification as such. This class of animal (usually a dog) have not been a problem until the “emotional support” class came into being. If this class of animal is going to continue to be allowed on airplanes (or restaurants or other places were pets are not allowed) there should be strict licensing requirements and a confirmed emotional problem the animal assists with, and as for flying, there should be a limit on type of animal (dogs only) and on size. If a person truly needs the support of the emotional animal they should be willing to be considerate of others in selecting such a pet.

  16. They should be expected to pay a seat for it (including seat assignment charge) in case the tail goes over, that’s a win win

  17. In the old days, there was a smoking section on lots of planes. Wouldn’t it be okay to have an animal section? I am deathly afraid of dogs due to a violent attack. I could not sit for two hours next to a misbehaving animal.

    1. I remember those days & I was a smoker then (quit years ago) I am not afraid of dogs & I am owned by a wonderful one. But in this case I agree-have a separate section not only for dogs, but also for unruly kids & over alcohol consuming loud adults.

    2. Even a well-behaved animal would cause you distress.

      I’d exchange seats with you in a heartbeat. I love dogs, but your fear and anxiety are not trivial.

  18. All this discussion with very little support of those with non-physical disabilities. Think of the thousands of soldiers with PTSD from the wars. An autistic child. It’s a very cruel world for many, and if an animal provides the support they need to LIVE A GOOD LIFE, then so be it. And no, not just dogs. Cats have done wonders. Size? No, as many PTSD vets get the best support from the larger breeds.

    Certification is fine, as long as the process is not long and costly. I’m just amazed that people think the only true disabilities are those they can see with their eyes. My mother is blind, with a service dog. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been yelled at for parking in a handicapped slot, with placard. Why? Because I park, then have to around and help her and her dog out. She’s 90. It’s during that walk around that the hate spews.

    1. People who appoint themselves the “whatever” police just irk me. Handicapped space, restroom, whatever. How hard is it to keep your $&^~ mouth shut until you are 100% sure you’re in possession of all the facts? Surely the placard alone should shut their mouths for the less than a minute it takes you to get out and assist your mother. Even then, not all disabilities are visible. Surely a “Perhaps you didn’t realize, but this is a handicapped space?” would be more advisable in every case anyway,

      I can’t say I’ve ever spared a glance at the spots or who was using them. I mind my own business.

  19. I’m all for a law requiring animals be caged or in the cargo hold unless they are service dogs – and that the owner proves they are well-behaved and trained. I have family friends that train service dogs and the standards for behavior are extremely high (worst I’ve seen – one of the puppies new to training fell asleep during church and started snoring). Likewise, I know someone with a dog for his PTSD – and he makes it very clear the dog is a working dog and not a pet, people are told not pet the dog, and the dog’s usual position is at his his side, sitting or standing, not running around.

    1. I have seen some very impressive service dogs, and as you state there is a lot of training and it shows. Saw a black lab yesterday, and sat behind a German Shepherd last year, the behavior of the dogs was exemplary. They were not pets and they did not act like pets.

  20. Raven, oh Raven…where are you? Aren’t you the one who sat next to someone with an emotional support SNAKE?

    This comment thread is crying out for you…we need your snark! 🙂

    1. Right here! SNAKES ON A PLAAAAAANE!!!!

      Oh my goodness…I still have nightmares about that snake. Perhaps I should bring a giant teddy bear and demand the airline provide a seat for it!!!

      1. YAY! He’s here! This story was not complete until you weighed in. 😉 (I forgot you changed your screen name.)

        YES! You should do that!

        I’m waiting for someone to try to come on with an emotional support pony!

        1. The ESA pig and turkey stories were bad enough, but a snake? Was it a big snake? What happens if the ESA dog goes after the ESA snake? Or pig?

        2. Alas, “Raven” was taken and the _ in Raven_Altosk was a pain to type on my phone. LOL. I left the icon the same so I would be recognizable, tho.

  21. I am the unfortunate soul who had to fly next to an “emotional support snake” that the person kept “petting” and holding outside of its kennel.

    Time to ground “emotional support animals” (which you can register online with a bogus doctor for $100). Time to stop worrying about spechul snowflakes who can’t fly without their widdle friends.

    Full disclosure: I’m an animal lover and in full support of REAL service animals. The “emotional support” nonsense is just stupid.

  22. I really don’t see how this situation will improve. it has become and open door to all kinds of liars and abuse. I am all for more stringent, legitimate letterhead documentation (by CERTIFIED physicians or psychiatrists) and yes, PLUS a fee to the emotionally crippled passenger. You’d see how quick this nonsense will stop if that were made into law. The only exceptions should be truly physically handicapped people (paralyzed or blind or obviously one who cannot function on their own).

    I have to provide PROOF to collect my social security and other worldly benefits that come with my “condition” – it’s called aging, yet others can just define things for themselves and basically commit thievery ?? No, not right.

  23. As someone with a service dog I feel the need to reiterate that that there is no requirement (law or regulation) for me to label my dog as such. That means she doesn’t have to wear any special vest, harness, or ID setting her apart as a service dog.

    That said, I do feel that some form of outward and obvious identification (such as a vest) helps defer questions and keeps people at a respectable distance from my working animal. If I need to go into hotels or on public transportation, I personally do not have a problem outing her vest on her. Other times, I leave it off and go about my business. I don’t speak for all service animal owners, tho, so just be aware that there are limits set out by the ADA to what can be asked/required of service dog owners. Many people argue that they do not want attention drawn to their disabilities by an obvious helper animal. That big Dalmatian could very well have been a service dog, though its intrusion into another’s personal space was unacceptable, even if it were.

  24. Was traveling yesterday. Saw one service dog; that dog was calm, near the owner, truly an impressive sight. Further into the terminal was the ESA dog that the owner could not control, practically dragging the owner in the terminal.

  25. What would Marie do if this were a seeing eye dog? Would that be more palatable for her? While a Dalmatian would be a terrible choice, as they are hard of hearing (thus ideal for fire trucks/alarms), animals are welcomed in the sky and always have been. For Epilepsy sufferers, the blind, etc, dogs provide a freedom of movement about the world they would never otherwise experience. It is selfish for an able bodied person not to empathize and sacrifice a few hours of comfort.

    1. I think the person sitting next to the Dalmatian was uncomfortable because the Dalmatian encroached on her space and the dog’s tail kept hitting her. I sat behind a GSD service dog that was so well trained and did not encroach upon other passengers; that was an impressive service dog.

      1. And that is understandable. That would annoy me too. Dalmatian are not usually friendly, either. Instead of banning the animals, perhaps the law should require airlines to keep a few seats available for folks who need to travel with a larger animal? Though that may not be practical.

  26. Also, Thousands of flights have been diverted bc of drunk, unruly, crazy, annoying and entitled PAX. I’ve never heard of a single issue caused by a dog.

      1. The dog was also in the cargo hold, not the cabin. I applaud the pilot & all involved for diverting. Usually the airlines don’t care & if your animal gets toppled, overheated, freezes, etc too bad. Which is why I don’t want my SA in cargo.

  27. There needs to be some regulation and guidelines in place, and right now, it is my understanding that it is quite wide open and subject to abuse. We have seen this abuse well documented. I am confounded by the fact that some airlines cannot have peanuts on a flight because of a peanut allergy but any kind of support animal can come. This policy seems to have been put in place without a lot of thought.

    I would like to see some changes, but I would like to see some recommendations by a body which would evaluate all of the issues and not just those of one group. Some ferry trips are designated as dangerous cargo trips. Maybe we need some flights designated either comfort animal enabled or comfort animal free.

    1. There is regulations, it’s just the airlines opened up a can of worms in recognizing ESAs as Service Animals. Plus, they really don’t enforce what’s in the ACA.

  28. I have a Therapy Dog and we did have to undergo extensive training. Our certification through Therapy Dogs International is explicit on where we can go and what we can do. We are NOT allowed in public places nor can we be aboard planes in a support capacity. Even in the nursing homes, hospitals, and libraries the dog must be on a leash at all times. What is needed is a specific certification process to weed out pets and ensure emotional support animals are trained and restrained. As someone who has worked with PTSD veterans, I would hate to see all such animals banned from flying. But there do need to be restrictions.

  29. I am bothered that I have not seen that anyone is concerned for the animals. It concerns me that I see dogs carted along to a huge flea market, 100 degrees, their feet blistering on the tarmac or being hurt on the gravel. I see dogs taken to car auctions and subjected to crowds and noise. AND then some take their animals on planes along just ???? I don’t know why!!! May I offer myself as a service animal? I am about the size of a large dog: 93 lbs., and when I stand up I’m barely 5 ft. tall. I’m also a retired psychotherapist and could get online certification… and I really really love to fly, which may be a lot more than some of these ‘service” animals can offer. (tongue in cheek icon inserted here)….

    1. Unfortunately many handlers don’t put shoes on their SAs. I’m in Phoenix & many here do. Many handlers will give water out of site of the public. I either being along a bottle or ask for a cup of ice.

      For a dog to be successful they have to have the drive & temperament along with intelligence. These are creatures that love to work, not just please their person. Yes, they get downtime. For many when off duty you wouldn’t think they were an SA.

      The dogs being dragged, coerced, etc probably aren’t SAs.

  30. “Not exclude owner-trainers” – I was referring to something to test dogs with their owners, not testing trainers (of any kind.)
    “Invisible disabilities” – Huh? I didn’t say anything about such a place making any determination on disability; that’s a doctor’s job.
    “Certain breeds or sizes” – Well, yes, very large dogs would be unsuitable for air travel, but otherwise I don’t see that inherent in the process.

    Who would set the standard? Likely the DoL would do so through regulations, it partnership with the testing organizations, similar to how, say, school accreditation is done today.

    All I was envisioning was a test to make sure a dog is well behaved in public, even in stressful, crowded, situations. Not yappy , calm, obedient to commands, appropriate elimination habits, not aggressive, not assertively friendly to strangers, does not do things like jump on counters or seats, etc.

    1. Please don’t get me wrong, I understand your thought. These are issues which currently exist. Unfortunately, many people don’t recognize the legitimacy of owner trainers. Regardless of how well the dog is trained. There have even been attemps to take that right away, lead by some SA organizations. Testing such as proposed would need to make sure it doesn’t rule out owner trainers. Odds are the gov agency tasked with testing would go to those organizations.

      Those of us who have invisible disabilities are often questioned as it is. Often the help a SA can provide for those is forgotten, ignored, or not believed. Often with travel & other settings that because the condition can’t be seen the SA isn’t needed at all or for that instance.

      In regards to size many of us handlers need large size dogs for mobility. For adults weighing at least 130 pounds the dog should be at least 60 pounds for mobility work, the heavier the person the heavier the dog. For height, a woman of average height would need a dog that stands at 23″in addition to the weight requirement. Again, taller person taller dog. So you can see where the larger sizes are required.

      Many people don’t realize all of this solely because they don’t need to realize it. It’s a complex thing to work out. Trust me, life would be much easier for me as a handler without the fakers. It’s embarrassing & has been demeaning to be questioned, have to go thru the whole thing about certification not required, etc. I, like many, add extra time onto how long an errand will take because of this for me I plan an hour per store, etc.

  31. If I am sitting next to someone with a snake as a “comfort animal,” they aren’t the only ones who will be needing comfort or therapeutic support. The panic attack on my part upon seeing the snake is going to affect the plane’s ability to push back.

  32. Obviously regulating humans’ needs and behaviours is the mantra of the day. But do stay away from regulating non-humans – such as corporations. Fascist do exactly that.
    This is not the issue of me taking a pill or my service cat versus you taking your pills for your allergies. You must be an idiot not take care of your allergies when enterring the airplane. I you have pet allergies and they are triggerred because there is a pet on board – than you most likely need to have your head examined not the allergy. Pet dander and protein enter the airplane in large quantities without any pets needing to enter. It is your problem. Do not impose restrictions on me just because you may have personal problem. Crowd psychosis is setting in. Stop it.
    I read on this forum – “flying is a privilege” – if so – you do not like to fly with me and my pet’s dander? – drive!

  33. No it isn’t required documentation (the whole point of this article). Those are the people we are talking about – the ones that CLAIM they have a “hidden” disability – which now seems to be everybody because they’ve all discovered the “fly my pet free” scam with fake online documentation or a sign pinned onto their pet.
    If some fliers are so emotionally distraught, nervous, paralyzed, etc., then they should have physician’s letterhead documentation and YES, BE CHARGED. Or maybe they shouldn’t travel at all because they might “snap”? The only people that should be exempt are those VISIBLY disabled. Amazing how many people will suddenly be okay to travel by themselves and hold it together if they had to pay a fee.

    1. It is required. The point for the article is that they are wanting to change that they now allow them to fly due to the fakers. Unfortunately, they discovered a way to fly their pets for free. You can’t take away the rights for a person to have their medical equipment with them. Yes, that’s right. Under the ADA Service Animals are durable medical equipment. A nod is given to the fact that they a living creature, but legally they are equipment.

      This is from the ACA. There is information all over the web, from the fake sites to service animal sites to the DOT itself. The link is included for you to read the act if you like. Section 382 governs Service Animals, which the ACA have included Emotional Support Animals to be considered the same as a Service Animal. Under the ADA, Emotional Support Animals are not Service Animals.

      “4. Require documentation for emotional
      support animals: 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


      Further, the airline can call the doctor to verify, especially in the case of less than 48hour notice. If they can’t verify or they don’t believe the ESA or even SA is valid then they can refuse to allow the animal to fly.

      Hence the reason there are all the websites offering the letters, etc. It’s supposed to be letterhead from their treating physician/mental health provider not someone they contact online just for the purpose of a letter.

      Invisible disabilities cover not just the psychiatric, but heart conditions, seizures, diabetes, Ehlers’, etc. There are a host of medical conditions that are disabling which due to clothes or the nature of the condition you wouldn’t be able to discern unless the person was experiencing a problem. The purpose of a Service Animal is to help mitigate before/during/after an event. If that SA gives warning about a seizure/heart attack/blood sugar/& more to the person could take medication, call for help, get into a safe place/position then that handler is so much the better. Even some people with mobility issues you can’t “see” what their condition is.

      A big part of this issue is that the airlines aren’t exercising their own rights. They aren’t asking for or are even allowing a person to go ahead without credible assurance, documentation, or observing behavior that they have to right to then say “no”. Even for the turkeys, monkeys, pigs, etc. There are references to it.

      “What About Unusual Service Animals?
      • As indicated above, certain unusual
      service animals, pose unavoidable safety
      and/or public health concerns and airlines
      are not required to transport them. Snakes,
      other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders
      certainly fall within this category of animals.
      The release of such an animal in the aircraft
      cabin could result in a direct threat to the
      health or safety of passengers and
      crewmembers. For these reasons, airlines are
      not required to transport these types of
      service animals in the cabin, and carriage in
      the cargo hold will be in accordance with
      company policies on the carriage of animals
      • Other unusual animals such as miniature
      horses, pigs and monkeys should be
      evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Factors to
      consider are the animal’s size, weight, state
      and foreign country restrictions, and whether
      or not the animal would pose a direct threat
      to the health or safety of others, or cause a
      fundamental alteration (significant
      disruption) in the cabin service. If none of
      these factors apply, the animal may
      accompany the passenger in the cabin. In
      most other situations, the animal should be
      carried in the cargo hold in accordance with
      company policy.”

      For the behavior:
      “5. Observe behavior of animals: Service
      animals are trained to behave properly in
      public settings. For example, a properly
      trained guide dog will remain at its owner’s
      feet. It does not run freely around an aircraft
      or an airport gate area, bark or growl
      repeatedly at other persons on the aircraft,
      bite or jump on people, or urinate or defecate
      in the cabin or gate area. An animal that
      engages in such disruptive behavior shows
      that it has not been successfully trained to
      function as a service animal in public
      settings. Therefore, airlines are not required
      to treat it as a service animal, even if the
      animal performs an assistive function for a
      passenger with a disability or is necessary for
      a passenger’s emotional well-being.”

      Before we start limiting the rights of the disabled let’s start education & enforcing what’s already present in the ACA.

      I have a Service Animal. I do have an invisible disability. I’ve no interest in keeping the ability of people to pass off their pets as fake Service Animals. I also do not want my rights taken away, to have to pay more for the same service, to be segregated, or discriminated against just because of the equipment I use to mitigate my disability.

  34. I need my SA to alert me to my medical condition so I can take care of it before it’s a big problem. Not all of us who use SAs use them for mobility. Nor is the place for the FA to assist me. An aid? We have a SA to be independent.

    1. So your SA monitors your health condition? I don’t want to know. It could be the place of the FA to aid you, and you are not independent, you depend on a SA (depending on something means you are not independent), which is an animal, humans are also animals.

      1. They can help with boarding, etc. For anything else section 382.39 subsection c part 3 states they can’t help with any other medical services. Part 1 states they can’t help a person actually eat. Aside from that, I’ve yet to know if a person that can alert to any medical episode like a medical alert dog can. Yes, I do depend upon my SA like I depend upon medication or any other piece of equipment to do it’s job. It’s independence in that we can go about as normal of a life as we can because of the help the SA provides. No calling friends or family just to go to the store for milk. No worry over will an episode occur & I’ll be taken to the hospital when instead there’s an alert & that can be preempted. I really hope that no one find themselves in this type of situation, but if they do I hope they find a great SA as it is life changing.

        1. 382.39 subsection c part 3 can be changed, it was a rule created by people it can be uncreated by people.

          I don’t want to be insensitive, you and your SA are not the issue, it’s the PAX that doesn’t want to pay to bring their pet in the animal hold or doesn’t want to be away from their pet for the duration of the flight. Like many things these PAX have ruined the experience for others.

          1. Not insensitive at all. Believe me, I’d love to have the fakers be stopped. I don’t want the rights currently granted removed either. Which means, my SA is in the cabin.

            Generally the discussion moves to SAs…as your comment about having them fly cargo shows. It’s a complicated issue. Some of the rules won’t be changed due to opening up the airlines to increased liability if something happens. Which is understandable from the business perspective.

            What would be nice is to have the airlines enforce the rules that are currently in place. They have the authority to not allow certain animals, to refuse if a person isn’t credible & can’t produce documentation as currently required etc.

            Also, there does need to be some legal enforcement for the ADA side too. Which, unless the local laws have it, there isn’t. Business, again, isn’t using the rights they have under it. They have a right to have an SA removed if it’s not under control of the handler, to ask the 2 questions to determine if the animal is a service animal. Honestly, most have given up. I’ve had employees tell me that they can’t ask the questions, refuse to let them in, or ask them to leave. If business/airlines don’t use what they have then what’s really going to change with something new?

            They take away the ESAs being allowed the fakers will move onto claiming SA. Then it’s a bigger mess. An ideal world…enforce what you have, tighten up the ESA aspect, & tweak as needed.

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