…if you’ve been on an airplane lately, you may have found yourself sitting next to all manner of creatures – including dogs, hamsters, snakes and birds. Their owners may tell you that they are “emotional support animals” and maybe they do provide a degree of serenity and comfort to those who bring them on board. But in addition, they sometimes pee, poop, snap at and strike other passengers.
This is not what the disability laws intended. Many people with disabilities truly need those animals: seeing-eye dogs, dogs that alert epileptics to oncoming seizures, dogs who pick up things, open doors and help their owners stay on their feet or propel their wheelchairs. But when these dogs are among a menagerie of untrained and and unruly animals, it’s easy to miss the good that they are doing and lash out at ALL people who bring their animals on board.
Under traditional rules, all a potential passenger needs to do is get a doctor to write a note saying that the passenger needs the animal to provide “emotional support” on the flight. That way, the animal gets on the flight and the passenger saves the fee usually charged for transporting animals.
Because of some recent news stories and an increasing number of complaints, at least two airlines have tightened up their policies, and others are considering doing the same. The Department of Transportation has also invited public comments on this issue.
Read the excellent article below by Wes Siler of Outside Magazine for more information.
A few months ago, a passenger got some unwelcome publicity when she unsuccessfully tried to bring her “emotional support peacock” with her on an United Airlines flight.
( See https://disabilitylawsandvoices.com/2018/01/31/keep-your-peacock-to-yourself-please for more information).
Since then, there has been an increase in news reports about ill-fated service and/or emotional support animals on flights. This includes a passenger who says she was told to (and did) flush her emotional support hamster down an airline toilet, as well as a puppy who tragically died after being placed in an overhead bin. This and other negative publicity has caused several airlines to re-examine their policies regarding animals on airplanes.
There’s no question that this is a very difficult issue. While airlines are required to allow service and emotional support animals on planes for passengers with disabilites, many passengers are taking advantage of the fact that they don’t have to pay extra for animals they label as “service” or “support” animals. That, along with the natural reluctance to probe into customers’ claims of being “disabled,” has resulted in increasing numbers of untrained and unruly animals on flights. And of course, the people who pay the highest price are people with true disabilities who really need those animals and who have trained them appropriately.
As a result, several airlines are re-examining their policies and trying to impose more structure while still following the law. One example is American Airlines, which has just announced a new policy that will go into effect on July 1. This policy will prohibit amphibians, goats, hedgehogs, insects, nonhousehold birds and animals with tusks, horns or hooves from boarding their airplanes. An exception will be made for miniature horses that have been trained as service animals.
The new policy will also require that customers traveling with support or service animals submit documentation about their animals. They will also have to sign a form indicating that the animals will not be disruptive on the flight. While there’s not much that can be done mid-flight if an animal doesn’t live up to this promise, at least we’re moving in the right direction!
For more information, see the link below.
This photo, from the attached Fox News article, is exactly what it appears to be: a peacock in an airport.
A couple of days ago, a woman tried to board a United Airlines flight with the bird, claiming it was an emotional support animal. The airline denied her request.
I am a disability rights advocate, and I passionately support the right of people with disabilities to have and use their service animals. But this is NOT what the law intended! Not only does it create inconvenience and sometimes even danger to fellow passengers and staff, it puts people with genuine disabilities in a poor public light. And in this political climate, that’s the last thing we need.
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