Frequent travelers have no doubt seen some strange things in passenger cabins, including a surprising variety of so-called “emotional support animals” (ESAs) – critters that are allowed to fly with human companions who say they just can’t travel without their furry friends close at hand. But now some airlines want to kick the menagerie off the plane.
According to Aviation Daily, carriers including United, JetBlue and Delta are asking the Transportation Department to amend its rules to ban emotional support animals from passenger cabins.
What kind of animals are we talking about? The most common, of course, are dogs – and there are plenty of stories about passengers falsely claiming their canines are support animals so that they can fly with them in the cabin instead of the cargo hold, or just to gain access to an up-front seat. Or they are simply trying to avoid the additional cost or burden of shipping the animal in the cargo hold?
Why are they allowed in the first place? Aviation Daily notes that the laws aren’t in sync on the issue – The Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes “service animals” like dogs trained to assist with the blind, but not “emotional support animals (ESAs).” The Air Carrier Access Act, however, does recognize ESAs and thus requires airlines to accommodate them, unless they are creepy things like snakes, rodents and spiders.
Check out United’s rules here, which distinguish between “service” and “support” animals. Service animals are allowed with few questions. However, “support” animals require a form/note from a doctor attesting to the patient’s need to travel with the animal. And an online cottage industry has sprung up to help pet owners do just that. Here’s a video that explains how:
According to pet behaviorist Cesar Millan’s website, Cesar’s Way, “Recently, some people have been abusing the system. They pass their dog off as a service dog even though they don’t have a disability and the dog hasn’t been trained for a specific task. Not only is this wrong and an abuse of the system, but it can also be disruptive and dangerous for legitimate service dogs.Some states are taking fake service dogs so seriously that they’ve enacted laws making it a crime. In California and Florida, it is a misdemeanor to fraudulently misrepresent a service animal. In California, the penalty can include both a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. Florida’s punishment is a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail plus 30 hours of community service, preferably for an organization serving people with disabilities.”
Nonetheless, there are all kinds of other creatures that are sharing the passenger cabin these days. Travel + Leisure magazine found instances of weird ESAs including turkeys, pigs, tortoises, miniature horses and kangaroos. If you think they’re kidding, just Google the term “service animal on plane” and click on “Images,” and you’ll find photos of these and more.
What do you think, readers? Is the system being abused? Should there be tighter rules around which animals are allowed onboard planes? Please leave your comments below.
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