Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you’re aware of the escalating controversy about people who abuse disability law by bringing animals on airplanes and calling them “emotional support animals(ESA’s).”
Because of the massive confusion over what airlines can and cannot require in these cases, the default position is for airline personnel to not ask any questions and let the parties (human and otherwise) board. The result has been an increasing public resentment over flights where animals are roaming the aisles and urinating, defecating, biting, snarling and sometimes injuring people.
I have already written several posts about this issue, and I’m not going to repeat myself here. But I wanted to invite you to read an article that focuses on people who really need those animals in order to carry on the functions of daily life.
In the unlikely event that any of the “abusers” are reading this post, this is a plea for them to stop and think about how their actions impact people who are using the law in the way it was intended.
You may have heard about the passenger who attempted (unsuccessfully) to board an airplane with her “emotional support peacock.”
This and similar instances have heightened public awareness of a most unsavory trend – people boarding airplanes with their pets and avoiding the standard fees by referring to them as “service” or “emotional support” animals.
Among the many problems is that it casts an unfavorable light on people with legitimate disabilities who truly need to be with those animals during airline flights and in other public venues. When properly selected and trained, these animals (almost always dogs) can assist those with vision or hearing problems. They can also open doors, pick up objects, alert their handlers if they sense an epileptic seizure, and provide relief to those with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
To resolve the confusion, several airlines have tightened up their policies on service animals. The U.S. Department of Transportation has also proposed regulations which would provide much clearer standards on what animals can board and what questions can be asked of their handlers.
And some organizations are in the process of creating national service dog registries, which would list only those dogs who have received training and have “graduated” to become legitimate service dogs.
This is an interesting concept and a couple of organizations are planning to launch their registries this fall. For more information, see the link below.
You’ve probably been reading about or experiencing the increasing presence of animals on airplanes. They range from the bizarre (an unsuccessful attempt to bring a peacock on board) to tragic (a passenger believing she had to flush her hamster down the toilet, a dog suffocating in a storage bin).
All of this is in reference to the federal law that requires airlines to accommodate passengers with disabilities. The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) defines “disability” in the same way as does the Americans with Disabilities Act: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. That legalese is another way of saying that the limitation must be significant – a temporary illness or even a broken leg are usually not serious enough to fit within the legal definition.
But those lines have become increasingly blurred by press coverage and public discourse, and the prevailing belief now seems to be that ANYONE can have a service or emotional support animal on a plane – just because they can get a doctor to say that they need one.
I and others have written extensively about the damage this does to people with real disabilities who genuinely need those animals to help them while they are on a plane and maneuvering through he rest of life.
Fortunately, as the attached article shows, several airlines are examining their policies on passengers with animals. And there is still time to give your input to the Department of Transportation on this issue.
…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.
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!
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.