Emotional Support Animals on airplanes are getting out of control
Emotional Support Animals provide a very needed service to thousands of people every day all over the United States. There is a small and growing population of people who are using emotional support animals as an excuse to get their pets for free on airplanes, knowing that no one on an airplane or at check in would dare question a valid disability. This allows them to sneak their pets into the cabin, avoiding the pet fees many airlines charge.
There have been reports online of people bringing their emotional support dogs, pigs, chickens, and even kangaroos on board.
Some of these animals may have indeed been legitimate emotional support animals with a valid purpose and valid certification from an accredited doctor.
I am also not taking anything away from service animals, mostly dogs, that serve a specific purpose. Service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for their human counterpart. Some open doors, some help to prevent medical emergencies, and some can help navigate life as a blind person that much easier.
Last month we wrote about a passenger who took emotional support animals to a new level, bringing onboard her giant dog and lying on the floor with him. They cuddled on the floor and flight attendants were afraid to wake her when the seatbelt sign came on. The main reason being that the dog was being very aggressive with many of the crew and interfering with the duties of the FA’s every time they came down the aisle with their carts.
Just this weekend we were onboard an Alaska Airlines flight and we saw another ESA situation get out of control.
A woman was traveling with her child and grandchild on the flight and had a dog with them. The dog did not have a carrier and was what looked to be a miniature schnauzer. Each of these passengers brought on two giant carryon bags, massive coats and jackets, and then for their animal they brought on even more blankets and even a suitcase for their emotional support animal. There were so many things that they had to leave them in the front galley of the aircraft and make two trips back to coach, otherwise they would have hit everyone’s head along the way.
The woman who was walking the dog on the leash almost tripped twice over the dog and practically strangled it, paying no mind to where the dog was or what it was doing. You could tell by the looks on the flight attendant’s faces that they were NOT happy about the situation.
As the flight went on we asked the flight attendants what the policy was when you see something as crazy as this coming on board. Their directive was that once it makes it past the check in agents and the gate agents, their hands are pretty much tied.
Service animal or…
The more that we spoke with them in the flight, we learned that this passenger claimed that the dog was a “search and rescue animal” and then when they realized that wasn’t going to fly (since search and rescue animals require certification and training) they then changed the animal to be an emotional support animal and produced a certification from a doctor that wasn’t in the state we were in or the state that we were going to.
It leads me to believe that this person used one of the many online agencies that you could use to get your animal certified as an emotional support animal. A report aired by an NBC station in Chicago that showed just how easy it was to get the reporter’s emotional support tortoise approved for travel.
I ventured back to use the restrooms and found this passenger holding their dog and standing in the aisle, walking the dog around the cabin.
What can be done?
After seeing this incident it makes me beg the question… what’s going to be done about this? For every incident that we see there are hundreds that are going around all across the USA, and it’s making many people, including airline employees and passengers, uneasy.
I understand the importance of using service dogs and animals to help with legitimate situations easier and make the lives of those involved better. But, at what point does someone have to step in and say “no, this isn’t going to work, and this isn’t going to fly (literally)?”
It’s a fine line to walk because you don’t want to suggest that someone with a legitimate and certified disability shouldn’t use an animal for support of any kind, but what can be done to stop people from abusing the privilege? Should airlines be allowed to press the issue when an emotional support animal comes on board?