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Feature Photo: bortescristian / Photo above: MikeMiley
When I started working as a customer service agent for an airline, I knew my job would involve placating difficult passengers.

BUT I NEVER considered three of those passengers would be snarling pomeranians.

I heard them before I saw them. Their high-pitched yelps ricocheted across the San Francisco International Airport’s departure concourse. Everyone in the check-in line turned to see where the commotion was.

“I’m checking in for the red-eye to New York,” the dogs’ owner said briskly. She placed her luggage on the scale and one of the pomeranians leapt onto the top of it, growling protectively and baring his teeth.

“Romeo!” The woman scolded, pulling at his leash. “Sorry, they’re not normally like this,” she said with an embarrassed smile.

“They?” I questioned, peering over the counter top. “How many dogs do you have with you?”

“Three,” she answered, curtly. And before I could inform her about the airline’s ‘one-pet-per-passenger’ policy, she hastily added, “They’re my emotional support animals.”

Emotional support animals, as the US Department of Transportation defines them, are “animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional support.”

As I looked from the three barking, hysterical dogs to the middle-aged woman standing before me, I wondered what sort of emotional support they could possibly lend someone. They looked more frightened about their impending flight than she did.

But of course, I couldn’t ask her, because that would have meant violating a 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act that states airlines cannot inquire as to why a person requires a service animal.

Photo: pizzodisevio

The law was enacted to protect the privacy of the truly disabled, but it’s also created a loophole for those without a disability wishing to cheat the system and avoid the $100 fee that airlines levy on people traveling with a pet. Basically, anyone can pass their pooch off as an emotional support animal by purchasing a $10 “Service Animal” vest off the Internet (no documentation is required).

Although the traveler could be asked to produce a letter from a mental health professional, airlines are so afraid of getting slapped with a discrimination lawsuit that they rarely ask to see one. In fact, the Department of Transportation goes as far as to urge “carriers not to require documentation.”

Service animals (such as those that assist the blind or deaf) aren’t new to air travel. Service animals have been assisting the physically disabled since the 1920′s and are trained in a wide-variety of tasks, from fetching medication to detecting seizures or pulling wheelchairs.

But emotional support animals are not service animals.

They don’t assist with a physical disability but rather, an emotional one (such as agoraphobia) and aren’t required to undergo any training whatsoever. Unlike therapy dogs, who work in hospitals and rehab centers, are certified and bred for their gentle, calm demeanor, emotional support animals aren’t even required to be house-broken.

They’re pets.

Pets with a fancy title maybe, but pets nonetheless.

And while under normal circumstances, a pet would have to ride in a carrier under the seat or in the cargo hold, thanks to a 2003 guideline set forth by the D.O.T, emotional support animals can now sit on the floor or on their owner’s lap, free of charge.

Just like service animals.

This isn’t to say that emotional support animals don’t provide a valuable service for those who truly depend on them. Anyone who has experienced the unconditional love of a dog couldn’t dispute the fact that they and other pets provide love and comfort… especially to those suffering from anxiety or depression.

But is that enough to allow them an all-access pass on aircraft? And where do we draw the line? If an untrained Pumba the Warthog can fly for free because he provides emotional support, then why not an uncertified house plant? My bonsai tree offers me comfort, shouldn’t I be allowed to bring him on board, free of charge, as well?

Because as it is, what qualifies as an emotional support animal is only limited to the imaginations of the owners of the pets and the doctors who “prescribe” them. As long as the animal doesn’t pose a threat to the safety of the other passengers on board, any animal (with the exception of snakes, rats, or spiders) can be considered fit for the job.

And that includes ducks, monkeys and even pigs. In the last six months, I’ve checked in three emotional support parakeets and several emotional support cats and I even know of an agent who once assigned a bulkhead seat to a miniature pony.

“This isn’t to say that emotional support animals don’t provide a valuable service for those who truly depend on them.”

And what about the passengers who may not feel so happy about sharing their legroom with Mister Ed? Or what about those with pet allergies? While airlines may try their best to accommodate those allergic to pet dander (by moving them to the rear of the plane, for example), the D.O.T specifically states that the “inconvenience of other passengers is not sufficient grounds to deny a service animal carriage in the cabin.”

Once, while I was preparing to board a flight, a captain stormed off the plane and approached the gate podium. “Tell me,” he inquired in a low voice, “What the Hell is the deal with these emotional support animals?”

After I informed him of the regulations, he shook his head in disbelief. And then told me about how he’d spent part of his last flight chasing down an emotional support dog who’d escaped away from his owner’s grip and run amok under the seats, frightening the passengers.

The dog had eventually found a hiding spot near the aft lavatory, where he’d urinated on someone’s handbag.

“They’re turning our airline into a circus,” he fumed. And I had to agree.

What’s the solution?

Do we ban emotional support animals from air travel because of the actions of an untold number of dishonest people? Perhaps a simple solution would be to require that emotional support animals receive the same training that therapy animals or service animals receive. While that training can be expensive (up to $60,000 according to the New York Times), it would weed out the fakers from the legitimately disabled.

Or maybe the real problem lies with why people feel they have to rely on emotional support animals in the first place. Because if people are so afraid to fly that they need Old McDonald’s farm on-board with them, then perhaps what they need isn’t a more relaxed definition of the term “handicapped” but rather, a better therapist.

About The Author

Reannon Muth

Reannon Muth is a part-time writer and full-time travel addict. Over the last decade, she's backpacked through Asia and Central America and lived in five countries, in Disney World and on a cruise ship. Some of her talents include being able to fall asleep anywhere and eat almost anything. She currently lives in Las Vegas.You can read about all of her adventures (abroad and at home) on her blog, Taken by the Wind.

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  • Mike Collins

    In 2000 I flew first class from Philadelphia to Seattle on a US Airways flight with a 300 pig in the cabin. The pig must have had some FF miles because it flew first class too. The animal was fine until we landed when it stormed the cockpit, urinated all over the galley and had the passengers freaked out. They claimed it was a seeing eye pig or some nonsense (don’t remember exactly). Politically correct or not it was a bad idea.

    • Spencer Spellman

      That’s one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever heard and I’m sorry you had to experience that. I’m glad you sent the link because otherwise I would’ve thought it was a deleted scene from the Hangover.

  • Heather

    I’m sorry, allowing “emotional support animals” on airplanes is ridiculous. I am allergic to a lot of dander, and my mother is so allergic that she can swell up like a balloon and pass out. Often I buy seats early so I can choose my seat – why should I have to sit in the rear of the plane just because someone else wanted to bring their pet along? It’s not worth putting other passengers at risk, nevermind the annoyance of sitting near three screaming pomeranians or the hygiene issues involved. Animals should travel in the cargo area.

    Even if people legitimately need service animals, a seeing eye dog isn’t going to help much during the flight. Other passengers or flight assistants can assist as needed. The dog doesn’t butter toast or help someone drink their water.

    • jen

      what about screaming brats that the parents don’t tell to be quite!

    • Dana

      You clearly have no idea what disabled individuals who need ESAs experience. I have had all kinds of therapy over the years with different people, improved somewhat, taken all manner of drugs, barely graduated from college, been completely unable to hold a job or sleep AT ALL without heavy medication. Only when I got my ESA dog did I stop having REGULAR (i.e. ranging from daily to weekly) suicidal episodes. Do you know what that feels like? Being in places like airports and airplanes – lots of people, lots of noise, no privacy – exacerbates these episodes, so these are the situations I need her the most. I keep my dog meticulously clean and keep her under my control at all times.

      I’m not saying allergies aren’t a problem. But you clearly think they trump whatever problems people with ESAs have. Emotional disabilities are frequently deadly, driving people into delusional states where their misery is so profound that it overrides their self-preservation instinct and drives them to take their own lives. I have tried all kinds of treatments, I’m on 4 different medications, I’ve tried lifestyle changes, full time work, no work, volunteering to help others, you name it and NOTHING has made as big a difference as my dog. She may well have saved my life. How DARE you say allowing her on an airplane is “ridiculous”?

  • Reannon

    @ Mike – I was just about to ask you how on Earth a pig was able to storm the cockpit, when I saw that you were talking about a pre-9/11 flight. That’s crazy!

    @ Heather – A seeing eye dog may not help much during the flight, but what about one that detects seizures? And some service animals do help their owner’s butter toast, (like a trained monkey, for example).

    You should read this:

    But I agree with you. Why should my emotional disability trump what some could consider your physical disability (I.e, a severe allergic reaction to pet dander)? That doesn’t seem fair.

    • Heather

      Hmmm…I can’t say anything about animals that are trained to detect seizures (as I simply know nothing about it), but I’d be more than happy to butter my seatmate’s toast or help him/her during the flight rather than sit with a monkey. Maybe as a society we’ve become too used to allowing people to fend for themselves / seek all sorts of non-human help to overcome obstacles than offering our own services.

      The NYT article was interesting. I think service animals should be limited to exclude primates, as there has not been as much success in domesticating them as with dogs or horses (which can both still be dangerous, I’m a certified riding instructor myself). Just think about the latest chimp attack. The chimp was perfectly well behaved for years and then became murderous. Monkeys are smaller and tend to be more well behaved, but still they are wild animals and I wouldn’t want to sit next to one.

      This is a great article as it really sheds light on American culture. Hope to see more from you!

  • Mike Collins

    For the heck of it I just googled the pig. I found this article. OMG that thing was loud!

    • Heather

      Wow, and apparently it was HUGE as well. Pigs would be a definite no-no in my book. That must have been one crazy flight.

  • Linda

    I agree with Heather on the monkeys and buttering seat mate’s toast. I think in some cases, service animals should be allowed on, but this “emotional support thing” sounds like people are just scamming the system. This lawsuit culture is out of control.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have any constructive solutions to suggest… but I’m seriously allergic to horses, so if the airline is moving me because of your pony, I want first class, not the back seat next to the toilet.

    • Reannon

      I think the policy is with most airlines is to move you to an unoccupied seat in the same class of service as the ticket you purchased. So you probably wouldn’t be moved to First Class…

    • Dana

      I find it odd that people don’t understand extreme, ongoing emotional pain as something that needs to be managed in a serious way. Don’t accuse people of scamming the system unless you have some sort of evidence that they are (other than your general impression or speculation) – we’re innocent until proven guilty in this country.

  • Gabriela Garcia

    That’s so interesting. I had no idea about an “emotional support animals” loophole. I’ve had to pay crazy amounts of money just to take my dog on flights! Granted, I was the one providing her emotional support.

    • Reannon

      Uh-oh, please don’t start scamming the system now, too! : ) I hope that my exposing a loophole won’t encourage too many people to take advantage of it…There are already far too many people doing that as it is.

  • Abbie

    I get the urine being an issue and the dander allergen, but if you’re simply talking about an annoyance, then I’m going to throw this out there – what about screaming kids?

    • Reannon

      I had a passenger with two emotional support dogs tell me once: “Well, if I have to sit next-to someone’s crying baby, than they can sit next to my barking dogs.”

      She had a point. I’d take sitting next to an emotional support horse over over a screaming baby, any day.

      • Abbie

        That IS a good point ;)

        • Teresa

          Hey, they can send their screaming kids over to pet my emotional support animal. Bet it helps calm them down! :-)

      • guest

        i don’t understand why someone would need 2 emotional support animals. surely one would do? I have no problems with emotional support animals, i think it’s a good idea. But, I think they should have to carry ID. You need a letter from a psychiatrist or dr or whatever, in order to fly with them, or have them in ‘no pet’ housing, so why not make it that they need ID. That way it’ll be harder to ‘pretend’ your pet is an emotional support animal

        • Jess

          The airlines do require documentation from your doctor. ID? They have collars 100% of the time because they’re required to be on a leash at all times and 9 out of 10 times theres a name tag plus airlines require paperwork concerning the health requirements of the pet.

    • Heather

      I’m no fan of sitting near misbehaving children or being on a plane with a particularly loud baby, but there are differences. Babies are human, wear diapers, can not eat/fend for themselves if left in the cargo hold and do not cause allergic reactions.

      I’ve been thinking about this as well. The one woman Reannon mentioned in the beginning of the article had THREE dogs. Three. How much “emotional support” does a person really need? That kind of behavior (bringing all your pets along with you in the plane) just seems selfish to me.

  • Trisha

    In my opinion, no one should have the right to disrupt the other passengers with any behavior, smell, or sound – that goes for people, whether adults or children, and animals.

    The problem with re-seating those who cannot control their animals or children is that nearly every flight I’ve been on for the past year has been fully booked (and oversold in many cases), which just shifts the annoyance to someone else. On my last flight home, the woman seated behind me held a young toddler on her lap, who screamed and kicked my seat the entire 4+ hours – I complained, but there was no where else for either of us to move to.

    I really think the only solution is for the airlines to limit those with animals or young children to certain flights – very early morning or very late at night, leaving the rest of the flights for those of us who prefer to not be assaulted with screaming, allergic reactions, or worse.

    And lest anyone think I hate children or animals, I most certainly don’t – in fact I truly love kids and animals. I just believe that both can, and should, be controlled. My parents raised me and my three siblings to be perfect travelers from a very young age, and I helped to raise my three step-kids the same way – all 3 were well-behaved fliers before they could form complex sentences.

    Passengers need to speak up, or the airline’s ridiculous policies will never change.

    • Abbie

      well said, Trisha. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    • Dana

      I don’t see why it’s the people with kids and animals who should be limited to “very early in the morning or very late at night.” When I’ve taken red-eyes, there is NO worse time to have kids screaming.

  • Spencer Spellman

    I honestly think there needs to be better judgement on this with the airlines, which they seem to have a hard time with anyway. I worked in mental health for a couple years and understand the issues at hand, but at the same time there has to be a line drawn. Flights can be difficult as it is with your neighbor snoring, kids crying and so on; you don’t need Fido pissing on your lap. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have them. I like the training idea. You don’t give someone whose blind an untrained dog as their guide, and though I believe the situation is different, I think you can apply the principle here.

  • Georgette

    Great article! I think they should be allowed — but only if they have that letter you mentioned, some kind of training including potty training (service dogs are trained to wait), and the person really needs one, but only one. And only domesticated animals — no monkeys, ponies, pigs. If a person is truly disabled, they’d be willing to get some kind of training for that pet, and it may be covered under their health plan, govt aid, or some such.

    • Teresa

      Well put, Georgette. I don’t know of anyone who truly needs a service/ESA animal who wouldn’t be wiling to put it through training and some approval process. And one is more than plenty.

      Besides the current support component, I would never again fly my pets in cargo. Way too many problems; I’ve never had a pet arrive healthy. (Used to have a Pembroke Corgi and I think they dropped his kennel – he peed blood for weeks because of some internal injury. Took a long time to forgive myself.) Never again! (And pets can’t fend for themselves in cargo – they’re locked in their carriers, so you have no idea WHAT kind of care is taken with them. Some airlines seem to pay more attention; others, not so much. Heat, cold, lack of food/water, panic…..ugh, not worth the risk, imo.)

  • Julie Schwietert

    I’m totally surprised by the comments on this article. When I accepted the piece for publication, I was sure it was going to draw supporters of emotional support animals out of the woodwork. It’s been interesting to see how the conversation has been different from my expectations (and not so secretly, I am relieved).

    As a former psychotherapist, I know that animals can provide great comfort to their owners, especially in times of stress, such as a flight. However, I have never known a psychiatrist who would “prescribe” that a pet accompany his/her owner on a flight. And the idea that it’s acceptable to bring anything other than a cat or a dog on board is ludicrous, for hygienic reasons, if nothing else.

    All this being said, though, I think it IS legitimate to question why airlines charge the ridiculous fee of $100 EACH WAY to bring your dog on board. I have a small pug who fits in a carrier beneath my seat. Why can’t she be considered my piece of carry-on luggage? At $100 each way, I’m looking at $200 round trip, and I travel so frequently that I’ve finally had to leave my dog with my mom rather than absorb that cost. I simply can’t afford it.

    The $100 does nothing as far as I can see except act as a form of additional income for the airlines. They could (and do) cap the number of animals per flight, paying or non-paying, so that’s not the issue.

    • Trisha

      Excellent point! I’ve often flown next to people who had a small dog or cat (once even a ferret) in a carrier that fit under the seat – never have they been anything but calm and quiet (and most often friendly) – never a nuisance. I totally agree that they should simply be considered the same as any other carry-on, as long as they fit under the seat.

      The extra fee is unjustified, and the limit is arbitrarily silly also – I can see keeping them spaced apart enough so that the animals don’t suffer stress by being forced close to another strange or potentially hostile animal, but with most planes having 20+ rows, a limit of 2 or 3 pets per flight just doesn’t make sense.

      It really makes one wonder about the intelligence of those persons responsible for making up the rules…..

  • Mike Collins

    News Break:

    “United Airlines to allow baby elephants in first class if the owner can produce a doctors note stating that it makes them happy. Breastfeeding in first class still under review. Until a decision is reached, mothers are encouraged to use the lavatory”

  • Bethany

    you guys are all missing the point.

    The airlines charge a ridiculous amount to fly animals and that is why people scam the system.

    First of all disability animals and emotional support animals are completely legit and people should be able to travel with them.

    Animals should NEVER, NEVER ride in cargo. So many animals die that way it isn’t humane at all.

    Yes, I feel bad for you if you have allergies but guess what I feel way worse for the animals who are clinging to life below you so you don’t have red & itchy eyes. They make medication for you. Why not be prepared and take it on the flight?

    Also what is the difference to you if the dog is a disability animal or if it the owners have paid to let it on the flight? You will still have the same allergies either way.

    As for people bringing bizarre pets on board, I also think it is fine however I think that for the safety of the animal and people that these animals should be sedated for the flight. Flying is scary for many animals and it is easier on everyone if they are calm. However if they are a seziure animal or a seeing eye dog then obviously they can’t be.

    Furthermore, it’s not about buttering the bread. It’s a feeling of independence and also disabled people disembark from the plane as well. They need their dogs for that. Their dogs should also not be subject to the cargo hold. That is cruel treatment.

    If airlines didn’t charge an arm and a large for pets (last christmas when I flew they wanted $175 each way for my dog, which was more than my ticket and he weighs less than a laptop) then more people would pay the fee and keep the dogs under their seats.

    • Dana

      I’d pay the fee for my ESA just to avoid the hassle if it were reasonable AND she’d be allowed to ride in the cabin (she’s a 40-lb dog).

  • Bethany

    You wanna talk annoying? one time I had to sit in the middle of a high school signing group that insisted on signing acapella in rounds the ENTIRE flight. Finally when one wanted to start playing the violin someone shut them up. It was horrible.

    Animals are always getting the short end of the stick and quite honestly most times they are much better than humans. And the screaming children? I mean you look like an jerk if you say anything so you can’t. You just have to suffer through it.

    Also one time I had to sit behind 2 brothers (who were like 18 & 19) and they must’ve scored their first porno mag in the airline terminal. They looked and talked loudly about every picture. Mind you their mother was sitting a few seats back which is more repulsive. It disgusted me and no one would do anything about it. Why would anyone look at porno on a plane? It made me sick. Which leads me to another thing I hate which is why do airports even sell porno mags? I mean seriously? If you can’t wait for your fix until you get to your destination then you have a serious problem.

    I would take a plane of animals any day over a plane of people. seriously I would.

    • Julie Schwietert

      Now there’s a good point. My mom always said dogs are better than people. :)
      But now that I’m a mom, I understand (and have much more empathy for) screaming kids. Though not high schoolers who sing a capella.

  • Reannon

    The reason most airlines only allow two pets in the cabin per flight is to protect those with pet allergies. That’s also the reason the pet fees are so high. They hope that by charging $100 (or sometimes as much as $250 one way) that it will deter all but the most determined, from traveling with their dog or cat. This has backfired though, since people found a way around that by pretending their dog is a service animal.

    Because as far as emotional support animals or service animals go, there is no limit. Which means that legally speaking, if 100 “depressed” people check-in for a flight with two dogs each, the airline will have to find a way to accommodate them all.

    • Dana

      I still don’t understand why allergies are more important than other disabilities.

  • Reannon

    While I have a lot of empathy with those with emotional problems, I think we as a society aren’t doing them any favors by making it easier for them to vicitimize themselves.

    So long as they walk around through life carrying that label of “I’m depressed” or “I have an anxiety disorder” or “I can’t function without my poodle by my side”, they’ll never get better.

    Perhaps if laws like these didn’t exist, people would discover that they have the courage and strength to face their fears (whatever they might be) on their own.

    Or else, maybe they just wouldn’t fly anywhere. And then they’d miss out on their sister’s wedding or their uncle’s funeral and become so depressed that they’ll be forced to do something about it and change.

    Either way, people should take personal responsibility for their issues. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of an airline (or any private enterprise, for that matter).

    • Heather

      “Perhaps if laws like these didn’t exist, people would discover that they have the courage and strength to face their fears (whatever they might be) on their own.”

      Well said Reannon. There are deeper issues going on here that we need to deal with as a society.

      • Dana

        I agree. But “dealing with these issues as a society” and “letting disadvantaged individuals fend for themselves” are two different things. I have a damn lot of strength and courage and that’s why I’m alive today. Suggesting I should “face my fears on my own” discounts the facts that (1) I am in the process of doing this and (2) emotional problems are not always surmountable. I know that’s not an easy point for the “personal responsibility” crowd to take, but I’m just laying out the facts.

        John Stuart Mill said in his autobiography that until a person attempts something and realizes they are not capable of achieving it, they cannot be fully aware of what they CAN achieve. I have attempted and fought for something I can’t achieve (mental health, a normal life). I am still trying anyway, but I have every reason to believe I won’t recover.

    • Eva

      “So long as they walk around through life carrying that label of “I’m depressed” or “I have an anxiety disorder” or “I can’t function without my poodle by my side”, they’ll never get better.”

      I think this seriously underestimates the severity of mental illness. For people with clinical depression, it’s not a matter of just bucking up and staying positive.

      • Teresa

        Thank you, Eva. Unfortunately, someone needs to experience major clinical depression before they usually “get it”. There are many components to depression – including serious physical ones: hormones, neurological transmitters, brain chemistry, heredity. Not to mention trauma. Not all who are depressed are simply “unmotivated” to get better. After all, what healthy person would just want to lay around in bed (or whatever) all day? It’s one of the most common medical conditions, as well as one of the most difficult to effectively treat.

    • Teresa

      Since depression and many other mental disorders are as physiologically based as they are emotionally based, this makes no sense. Would you take away support groups for cancer patients, telling them to “just get over it”? Would you tell someone who needs medication that if they can’t fly without it, they shouldn’t fly and maybe that’ll motivate them to get well? I hope not.

      @”Perhaps if laws like these didn’t exist, people would discover that they have the courage and strength to face their fears (whatever they might be) on their own.”

      There are many examples from history where we’ve needed laws to give citizens equal access and protection – it wasn’t so long ago that we had institutionalized racial discrimination and women didn’t have the right to vote. During segregation, some might have argued that government and private enterprise shouldn’t bear responsibility for limitations on (insert minority here).

      I wonder what people would think of a fair free market solution: those who don’t want to be around service animals, kids, etc. can pay a premium to fly on a _____________-free airline. The only problem is there are an awful lot of variables to consider. You might get rid of the pets and kids, but what about the drunks? Or the people who don’t shower everyday? Or those who do shower every day, but slap on too much perfume? Or the dude in the seat next to you that snores and drools on your shoulder? Or the tall guy whose knees keep you from putting your seat back? Somehow I’m guessing such a solution would neither “fly”, nor work very well.

    • Teresa

      So long as they walk around through life carrying that label of “I’m depressed” or “I have an anxiety disorder” or “I can’t function without my poodle by my side”, they’ll never get better.”

      Really? What about people who label themselves as “allergic” or “anxious around dogs”? (Point being, they’re ALL real illnesses.)

      @”Or else, maybe they just wouldn’t fly anywhere. And then they’d miss out on their sister’s wedding or their uncle’s funeral and become so depressed that they’ll be forced to do something about it and change.”

      Same could be said for people with allergies, etc., couldn’t it? (If they can’t fly because they’re too allergic to variables in the air – which there will ALWAYS be with lots of people around – maybe they’ll become more motivated to make alternate arrangements, like chartering a purified private flight, making sure they travel with their medication, inquiring with the airline as to whether any service animals will be aboard, etc., etc., etc….)

      @”Either way, people should take personal responsibility for their issues. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of an airline (or any private enterprise, for that matter).” Agreed. I take responsibility by doing the things I need to do to heal. Am I to be blamed if someone with allergies doesn’t travel with their medication? I try to travel with mine and it just happens to have ears and a tail.

    • Dana

      I AM taking personal responsibility for my issues, by pursuing every treatment option available to me. That includes my ESA. You clearly don’t understand and have no desire to understand the nature of mental illness. Go to hell.

    • guest

      clearly you do not understand just how difficult and debilitating  mental illness can be. It’s not a case of ‘pull your socks up’. It’s not a case of ‘victimizing’ themselves.  Would you tell someone with hearing difficulties that they’d be fine, if they had courage to face it? would you tell a blind man that using a service dog was not going to help them? That they should take ‘responsibility for their issues’, and not expect the airline, or cafe, to accomodate them?

      I think some people are fiddling the system, and I think it should be made so animals have to be registered, or certified, or something. But I think we should respect people and the difficulties they face.

  • Linda

    I don’t know how legit three pomerianans are.

    Also, I take allergy meds when I go places I expect there will be horses – rodeo, race track, farm; however, I don’t carry medication with me in case there is a pony in the seat next to me (although I do sometimes carry Benadryl for its knocking-me-out effects. I haven’t actually tried it against a horse yet, but I bet it would work really well against a screaming baby or excited animal. Just pass out until landing).

    I like what Georgette said about requiring – in the case of service/emotional support animals – some kind of paperwork or training. It would be great if you could have behavior requirements for kids too – “Your child is a brat, I’m sorry, we can’t allow you on this flight.” Screaming babies… sucks, but again… earplugs and Benadryl.

    And apart from allergies, what about the emotional anxiety your emotional support animal causes someone who’s afraid of dogs?

  • Meredith

    As someone who would actually need an emotional support animal, I’m really surprised by the reaction to this article. When I travel, I tend to freak out (full on panic attacks and depression), and having my cats with me would help me infinitely. I know that when the time comes to travel with my cats, they will definitely be in the cabin with me, because I’m not willing to risk their lives (and honestly, my emotional health – if they died, I would be beyond devastated) by putting them in cargo hold just to make it easier for other people (and I’m a habitual people pleaser, so that’s saying a lot).

    As for training them to be service animals, have you ever tried to train a cat to do anything they didn’t want to do? Not so easy. I can understand for dogs, but for cats/birds/rodents, it’s not going to work as well.

    The thing is, people should try to be more considerate on both ends. People need to fly, and sometimes they need to bring their “annoying” animals or children. It’s a fact of life, and we should accept it. However, the people bringing the animals or children should also try to minimize the noise/etc as well. It’s just common courtesy.

    Sure, a lot of people are probably taking advantage of the system, but the point is there is NO WAY to be sure. As for “victimizing” ourselves, it doesn’t work like that. If you take away the one thing that is keeping a person sane, they’re not going to suddenly say “Oh! I’m cured now!”, they’ll probably get worse. I’m afraid it’s thoughts like this that are causing the stigmatization of mental health issues.

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  • Mike Collins

    I am in agreement with a lot of what is said here. Tolerance is needed in any public situation. Comparing babies to animals….not so much.

    Seeing eye dogs being the exception, I think ALL animals should be kept in approved carriers that can fit under the seat in front of the passenger. Airlines are looking only at the legal ramifications. If they discriminate based on mental illness then there is going to be a lawsuit. If the plane has an emergency and a charging pig blocks the egress of evacuating passengers they will be sued. They have to look at the more likely scenario when making policy.

    I don’t see how a debate can even be considered. If your farm animal can cause the death or injury of my family in the event of an emergency then stay home or take the circus train. Comatose patients are too ill to travel, I empathize. If mental illness makes you too ill to travel without risking the lives of other people then the same goes for you.

    I don’t think that expecting the airline to put the safety of the passengers above political correctness is unreasonable.

    “when pigs fly” should stay a cliche not a PC acceptability.

    • Dana

      I do not see how my quiet, well-behaved dog, whom I need to avoid panic attacks and who is too big to fit under a seat, will put anyone’s family at risk, any more than a human passenger would. In the case of an emergency, she and I would simply exit the plane quietly. It’s interesting that what disabled people/people of color/women/other marginalized groups consider important to their dignity and quality of life is dismissed as “political correctness” by those who aren’t in those protected classes.

      What would it sound like if you were to edit your second-to-last sentence to read, “I don’t think expecting the airline to put the safety of the passengers above the serious, ongoing medical needs of some individuals is unreasonable.” Do you see how that DOES seem unreasonable? Emergencies of the sort you imply are very unlikely. My having a suicidal episode without the appropriate preventative measures is extremely likely. I would suggest you re-evaluate the concept of “political correctness” in light of the golden rule.

  • Teresa

    This is a complicated issue, but an important one. Until a couple of years ago, I would have had little sympathy for those “requiring” “emotional support animals”. I used to be very outgoing, social, excited about exploring the world, travel and seeing family all around the U.S.

    Then I was brutally attacked by a stranger. I have some training in martial arts, but I could not protect myself. The emotional scars were even longer-lasting than the physical, though. I completely withdrew from my family, tried to get my boyfriend to dump me, stopped answering the phone or leaving the house – for a couple of years. I was 30 and should have been enjoying life. Instead, I eventually attempted suicide. I was so isolated and felt so vulnerable and alone.

    I was lucky enough to be gifted with a beautiful and sweet yellow lab. He loved and depended on me. I learned that, unlike people (my view at the time), HE could be trusted with my safety and he gave me unconditional love and comfort. He knows when I am down and will hop up on the couch and curl up next to me, resting his head in my lap. If that’s not true support, I don’t know what is.

    I’ve been in treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with Anxiety and Depression. I go to group therapy, lots of individual therapy, meditation guidance, take medication, etc. And, thankfully, having this loving animal depend on me has motivated me to get out of the house a little at a time – to do his business, buy his food, exercise him, etc. In a lot of ways, he supports me just by depending on me. When I see or pet him, I feel my heart rate go down, a sense of peace, etc. I’m distracted from thinking about all the “bad” things that could happen in the presence of strangers. And, ultimately, the more I get out and do things, the easier it becomes – and that wouldn’t be possible without him. The same can be said of many vets returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from PTSD and have trouble readjusting to civilian life.

    So, that’s my frame of reference. I love flying and I love travel – I just have a hard time being around strangers right now, but I want to regain that and not be house-bound for the rest of my life.

    I completely agree that every flight I’ve been on has had something more annoying/dangerous/obtrusive than my mellow and well-behaved pet. Crying babies (granted, I’m not a parent yet – I don’t know how you do it!), sick people not covering their mouths or washing their hands, rowdy groups of young adults, to the occasional verbose drunk that thinks they’re holding their liquor well. I guess when you’re in a public place with other people, you just make concessions and hopefully can be a bit flexible. For example, while I might find the above objectionable, I mitigate the annoyance by bringing my own hand-sanitizer, earplugs or iPod, comfy slippers and lotion – whatever it takes to make me comfortable, regardless of what other people are doing.

    Now, regarding allergies and ill-suited/unruly animals, there need to be some limitations. If a person’s allergies are so severe that they simply cannot travel with an animal in the cabin (especially a problem on a small plane), then I would gladly give up my seat on that flight and take a later one, if at all possible. I would also thoroughly bathe and groom my dog beforehand to minimize shedding and dander (the Furminator and shedding prevention shampoos work wonders). But what about people with strong perfume or body products? Should they also have to take a later flight? Or would someone with allergies likely move to another part of the plane? I don’t know the solution, but it seems like a legitimate question to consider.

    In terms of other solutions, I support requiring certification from a mental health professional that the animal is necessary, as well as a behavior/training certificate requirement. That is only reasonable.

    In the case of dangerous or unruly animals, they should be treated as any dangerous or unruly passenger and be kicked off the flight until they can behave or be proven safe. In this day and age of post-9/11, we should all understand that there need to be some restrictions on our (human AND animal) behavior for the safety of all.

  • Reannon

    @ Eva and Teresa

    Perhaps I was oversimplifying the issue a little with that statement. I’m not a mental health professional, so I can only speak from personal experience.

    Obviously it’s a complicated issue. And you made some good points. No one would ever expect a blind person to just ‘toughen up’ and travel without their service dog, so why should they expect that of the clinically depressed or those with PTSD?

    But I think it’s unsettling how quick people are to label themselves ‘disabled’. What a powerful thought that is! I may not be clinically depressed, but I certainly would be if I went around thinking that all day long. I think these labels that we give ourselves are damaging and we’re quickly becoming a society of victims because of it.

    • Eva

      “But I think it’s unsettling how quick people are to label themselves ‘disabled’. What a powerful thought that is! I may not be clinically depressed, but I certainly would be if I went around thinking that all day long. I think these labels that we give ourselves are damaging and we’re quickly becoming a society of victims because of it.”

      Reannon – I don’t have particularly strong opinions one way or the other about emotional support animals on planes, and it seems pretty clear from the anecdotes you’ve presented here that at least some people are abusing the system. Fine. But that is a completely separate issue from the question of mental illness as a whole – the fact that some healthy people are gaming the system to save on airline fees does NOT mean that depression and anxiety disorders are some sort of joke or quackery.

      People with clinical depression do not self-diagnose. They don’t just label themselves as disabled and then go flop on the couch and watch TV. Mental health professionals handle diagnosis and treatment, for those lucky enough to have the resources to receive their help. Many who don’t receive that help commit suicide, and they don’t do so because they’ve just up and decided they’re victims – they do so because of chemical imbalances in their brains (and, most often, situational factors in their lives helping to trigger those imbalances) that make them feel utterly worthless, unloved and unlovable, complete failures at everything in life, 24 hours a day.

      I’m trying to be polite, because it sounds like you mean well, but your last paragraph demonstrates a complete ignorance of mental illness and the suffering it causes.

      • Reannon

        I don’t really want to get any further into an argument about mental illness, because I’ve already managed to offend enough people with my comments. And that was never my intention! Honest. : ) Sorry about that.

        But as someone who majored in psychology in college, worked as a counselor at a crisis center and who’s had to work through my fair share of emotional issues in the past, I wouldn’t say that I’m completely ignorant on the subject. Sure, I’m no expert, but I’ve read a lot about the power of positive thinking. And I’m a big fan of psychologist Wayne Dyer’s work as well as authors Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. They would all argue that overcoming obstacles in life has a lot to do with simply making a decision to change. And that a lot of our problems in life have to do with what we tell ourselves about them.

        One of my favorite quotes is: “You don’t have to believe everything that you think.” I love that idea…

        • Dana

          Not all psychiatric illnesses do respond to “the power of positive thinking.” I wish it were that simple, and if it were, I would’ve recovered from borderline personality disorder years and years ago. Also, people with ESAs are generally in treatment. People don’t want to be depressed. They don’t want to have crippling anxiety. Many are doing the best they can to change. But some illnesses, mental and physical, are very resistant to treatment.

      • Dana

        You are so right. I call myself disabled because it is what I have to call myself to get the help I need (regardless of what the law may say, this is reality). I am not a victim. I fight every day of my life. Part of how I do this is by not hiding the fact that I’m disabled, and doing everything I can to get effective treatment.

  • Reannon

    In light of emails I’ve received claiming that I didn’t present all the facts in this article, I’d like to say this:

    If an animal is considered dangerous, it won’t be allowed to fly (no matter if it’s an emotional support animal or not). Some have suggested that it was poor judgement on my part then, to let those three pomeranians board, since they were obviously borderline hostile.

    The reason I did was because I was under direct orders from a supervisor to do so. The airline I worked had been sued by that customer (she won) over a previous incident where she and her pets were denied boarding. But while that incident described is 100 percent true, it definitely represents an exception.

    It should be noted that pets and service animals fly every day and mostly without incident. The story of the pig charging the cockpit and that dog who peed on someone’s handbag (although true) are definitely more of the wilder ones.

    And as far the statement that airlines aren’t allowed to inquire as to why a passenger requires a service animal, that’s the truth. Airline employees aren’t allowed to ask questions like “What is your disability?” or “Why do you need a service / emotional support animal?”

    But according to the D.O.T. , airline employees CAN ask:

    “What tasks or functions does your animal perform for you?”

    “Would you describe how the animal performs this task (or function) for

    So long is their answer is deemed credible by the airline employee, no further documentation or questions are required. A simple: “He provides emotional support” is sufficient to allow that animal to board.

  • Kat

    I think that any dog, at least, flying as an emotional support animal should at LEAST have to have a CGC (canine good citizen) certification. You can look up what is involved in obtaining this, but it basically tests that the animal is stable around other people, listens to basic obediance commands (sit, stay, heel, etc), and is otherwise calm and composed around unknown people/places/animals, and has the ability to remain focused on the owner, and is of course housebroken. This usually requires, at very least, basic and intermediate training, which can usually be achieved for around $500. This is doable for your average person, and insures that the animal does know how to “sit down and shut up” so to speak. I feel that if your animal cannot remain composed and calm, as the writer of the article touches on, it’s not realistic to think that it’s going to be an emotional comfort to you, let alone the horrible annoyances it will cause to other passengers.

    I also totally sympathize with those people who have allergies. Mine are severe, particularly to cats, and I had to leave a flight before take off and go all the way back through reticketing and get another flight because a cat was seated near me on a full flight and I was already experiencing severe breathing difficulties before takeoff.

    That said, I own a standard poodle who was specifically purchased to BE an emotional support animal (not for flying, just in general) because of SEVERE depression and anxiety that has been caused by a whole slew of other health problems. These ARE disabling mental health problems, and I do have the ceertification to prove it (something else I think that anyone trying to fly with an ESA should be REQUIRED to provide). I have health conditions that have left me somewhat disfigured, so I find new situations EXTREMELY stressful and awkward, especially ones that are hectic for the average person to begin with. When I was a child I loved flying; unfortunately, things change. I am not at all afraid of the plane itself, just getting through everything to get onto it. In addition, I have to fly with large quantities of medication and other things that have to be specially flagged through security, which since 9/11 is very challenging and stressful. It’s hard enough to go shopping at a local grocery store (which I do, and don’t insist on trying to bring anything “supportive” with me), but flying is challenging to the point that my stress level usually sets of my physical illnesses. It was actually my therapist who suggested I consider an ESA, after my last flight began with me having to be calmed and given a glass of water and an apology by a TSA agent, after her partner was interrogating me over my (correctly marked and flagged) medication, and who apparently took my ratcheting up emotional level from the stress as a sign of “possible threatening behavior” and who was trying to detain and question me further and held up the security line for about 10 minutes. I was on anti-anxiety medication at the time, which obviously wasn’t doing much good. The whole incident ended in tears and was EXTREMELY embarassing, as in the “real world” I am a 27 year old accomplished small business owner who works very hard to maintain my composure and credibility at all times. Having an ESA present allows you something to remain focused on, and know that you have to keep it together to provide care for the animal, and remain calm to help it remain calm. All of that said, I would never DREAM of flying with an animal who wasn’t well trained, and the reason I got a poodle was because it’s easier on my (and most people’s) allergies. If I were the person flying with an animal and someone was very allergic, I would offer to take a later flight, because it’s not fair for someone to be miserable on my account. I also go straight to the airport, straight to the waiting area with my ESA, straight on the plane, and straight out of the airport. I don’t think people with an ESA should be expected to be allowed in any resturaunts, shops, etc. and should remain as inconspicuous as possible. (especially since, presumably, you are stressed at being in the airport in the first place if you have an ESA).

    In conclusion, flying with an ESA should NEVER be about someone wanting their pet on board so it doesn’t have to ride cargo. Documentation should be required and checked. If people simply want to fly with pets, perhaps they could spend some time lobbying airlines to allow “pet flights” with a fee. I know many people, if allowed to bring their larger dog on board, would buy it a seat, as opposed to having to ship it cargo. Whatever your feelings about animals in the cargo hold – trying to parade them as an ESA is NOT the solution – and simply causes credibility to be lost for those people who actually utilize them.

  • Lisa

    I legitimately have an emotional support dog I travel with. I have documentation, and he has been certified as a therapy dog.

    Honestly, I would be more disturbed having to look at Heather’s face on a flight, than someone’s service dog.

    Even though there are some who abuse the system, we must not be ignorant to all cases.

    I would like to share with you a story of what happened to me yesterday and today.

    I had a scheduled flight with my service dog on Malev Airlines from Brussels to Budapest. I called the airline to confirm I will be traveling with my service dog and request if I need to bring any specific documentation. They told me that it is already indicated on my file (they are code share with AA) and I do not need to bring any specific documentation. Evening of flight, I took a 50 Euro cab to the airport.

    I was turned away at check in because they told me my emotional support dog wasn’t confirmed and that I needed documentation which I didn’t bring as advised by one of the representatives in Belgium (I mean India). I rescheduled the flight for the morning in which I would return with the documentation. Before leaving, I informed the airline of my disability and documentation to make sure I would not be turned away the following morning. I was I took another 50 Euro cab back to my apt.

    I took another 50 Euro taxi ride back to airport with documentation in hand. Note that I have flown with my dog as a service dog in cabin on many transatlantic flights (8+ hours) provide the documentation as requested and I am refused again.

    I took another 50 Euro taxi ride back to my apt and will now have to spend my anniversary with my husband apart.

  • LorraineER

    I suffer from crippling panic attacks and social anxiety. I have a dog, under 10lbs, that was abused badly before I got him and is blind and has hearing AND smelling problems! Yet simply holding him can help my panic attacks from turning into an episode that requires hospitalization and extra doses of medications.When I’m upset he acts like we are magnetically attached often before I even get to the point where I start to lose control. It’s as though the lack of his other senses have heightened some emotional radar. He helps faster than my body can absorb any pill. I didn’t know there was such a thing as “emotional support animals.” However,It looks like I have one. I barely ever fly so that’s not an issue but It’s really interesting to know that this even exists. I wonder if this means I could take him with me to places that often trigger attacks such as supermarkets and the mall.
    Thanks for posting this! Your airline work experiences are always fun to read about.

    • Dana

      Unfortunately, federal regulators have not recognized the critical role ESAs serve in spite of not being trained to perform “tasks.” So public access other than air travel is not required. :(

  • K

    I just feel compelled to add to this discussion- the focus of this debate should not be on the legitimacy of a person’s disability. The focus is on permitting unruly or poorly-socialized animals (or people) on aircraft.

    The woman with the three evil Pomeranians may have severe epilepsy. She may have been physically or sexually abused. She may be a veteran with PTSD. She may be recovering from brain cancer. She may also be a jerk. A legitimate disability and a nasty disposition are in no way mutually exclusive.

    Sartre said “Hell is other people”, and an airplane cabin is the ninth circle of that hell. A co-worker of mine has Tourette’s Syndrome; she often makes squeaking/gasping sounds when she is stressed out. She’s a very sweet person and can’t help it, but it doesn’t make the noise any less annoying. I’m sure many a person sitting next to her on a plane has wondered how such a rude, noisy person was allowed on an aircraft.

    My point is that air travel is that some aspect of air travel is incredibly aggravating for almost everyone. Tall people have to deal with lack of legroom, allergic people have to deal with perfume and pet dander on clothes, anxious/depressed people have to deal with, well, other people. I, a single person, have to deal with precocious Bratleigh kicking my seat. If you want ideal conditions, you will have to hire a private jet.

    The issue isn’t whether animals are valuable for emotional support, but whether an animal poses a danger to others. It seems to me that all animals must be in an appropriately-size container; the Pomeranians should be allowed on a plane in one of those dog-bags with mesh sides. Pigs/ponies should be allowed if they are in a travel crate that will fit in the cabin. Then their owners can take support from knowing the animal is there and can be petted, but they are not going to bite anyone or rampage through the plane.

  • Katy

    SO much misinformation is here.
    Including the entire article.
    Emotional Support Animals are NOT service animals and DO NOT have any public access rights at all.
    Let me clarify some things for everyone. Be prepared for a long post, feel free to skim, and please enoy what I hope is a layman’s version of the ADA:

    [B]To qualify as a service dog, there are many, many conditions a dog must meet. I will list them for convenience:
    1. (This is the most important) The owner/handler must have a legally documented disability.[/B] There are anxiety disorders, and there are anxiety disabilities. A service dog is illegal in the hands of someone who is afraid of spiders, or afraid of planes, or afraid of dust mites (these are anxiety “disorders”). A service dog IS legal in the hands of a person with a condition such as agoraphobia – an intense, debilitating fear of social situations. The difference? Can the person function independently despite their fear. Afraid of spiders? Squish ‘em, or get someone to do it for you. Afraid of planes? – Don’t fly, find a job where you don’t have to fly, go to therapy to work on this acute (acute in the sense of small and defined) fear. Afraid of dust mites? Hire a weekly cleaning service. Incapable of going outside of your home alone because you have been raped/assaulted/robbed/held hostage and suffer from an intense dibilitating fear? Get a service dog.
    2. [B]A service dog is only legal for public access in the hands of it’s DISABLED handler.[/B] That means that a service dog is not allowed to travel in cabin on a plane with say, the dog’s trainer, to meet it’s handler. It must travel in cargo in this type of situation. A service dog is not a service dog unless it is with it’s disabled handler. In anyone else’s hands, it is a pet. (Certain exception of course – a quadripalegic passenger receiving assistance boarding may hand their service dog off to an attendant momentarily, etc.)
    [B]3. A service dog must be trained in AT LEAST 3 dened tasks that are designed to assist their disabled handler.[/B] This means that a person can be disabled – blind, deaf, paralyzed, suffer from agoraphobia, etc., and they can have a pet dog. But unless this dog is trained specifically to do at least 3 tasks to help aid them with their disabililty they are NOT a service dog under the law. Examples of service dog tasks include:
    [U]For the blind:[/U] Traffic alert, guiding around obstacles, retrieving dropped objects, etc.
    [U]For the deaf:[/U] Alerting to a phone ringing, Alerting to a smoking pot on the stove, Waking handler up in the morning or in the middle of the night in case of emergency.
    [U]For the autistic, especially children[/U]: “Tethering” , which involves allowing a child and parent to be more independant and safe in public by training a dog to allow a child to be tethered to their harness. Autistic children have a very unsafe symptom of “bolting” in public due to excessive stimuli, and when tethered to a service dog, this dog can be trained to lay down and bark, to alert a parent that the child is attempting to bolt, and to prevent the child from potentially running into hazardous traffic. Don’t fret about the dog running off with the child after a squirrel – They are too well trained, and also, the parent holds the dogs leash.
    [U]For the psychiatrically disabled[/U]: Self-injury interference, Wake-up during an emergency (fire, etc) since many sleep medications can cause a person to become unresponsive, guide to a safe quiet place in the onset of a panic attack, peace-of-mind stance (usually used with Veterans returning from war – if they suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, tey may feel a constant need to check behind them to see if they are being followed. A service dog can be trained to do this for them, and to sit behind them when they approach things like cash registers, to allow them to feel safer. Of course, the dog is not trained to respond aggressively in any way if someone does approach – simply licking the owners hand to reassure them there is no threat suffices.)
    [U]And, here’s one of the newest: For those suffering from Alzeheimers[/U]: a service dog can be trained to find the person’s significant other if they get lost, can be tranied to help them find their car when they come out of a shopping mall, and can be trained to get help or dial 911 if it’s owner begins to wander.

    (please note that there are many more types of services dogs, and many other species other than dog have been used as legitimate service animals. But in all cases, same rules apply.)

    Thoe three rules are essential for a service dog to be legal.

    [B]Unfortunately, there is no way to determine if a service dog is legitimate or not due to this situation[/B]: Imagine you have no legs, and use a wheelchair, due to a traumatic war injnury. You cannot pickup things you drop, or open doors, or turn on light switches on your own, so you have a service dog to help with these tasks, so that you don’t need to constantly ask strangers for help. You also wear long pants, because it makes you feel like your disability is less exposed in public. Imagine now, that every time you went for coffee, every time you bought groceries, or went to the movies, or to school, or walked down the street that someone asked you why you have a service dog. Imagine they didn’t believe you had no legs, and asked you to roll up your pants. Imagine explaining this 20, maybe 30 times a day, just so you can get your morning coffee.
    [B]That’s why it’s illegal to ask a person what their disability is and why they have a service dog.[/B] The ADA allows only only two questions in this situation: “Is that your service dog?” (which, if disputed, in a court of law, determines more than you think: If you answer “yes” you are confirming that this is your service dog, aka according to the three rules: 1) you have a legally documented disability 2) this is your service dog, no someone elses. 2/3 rules down so far.) the only other question they are allowed to ask is “What tasks is your dog trained to do?” This allows you to answer: “Pick up things I drop, Turn on the lights, and open doors.” That’s not nearly as embarassing as explaining why you’re in a wheelchair and showing someone you have no legs. It also confirms the third rule of service dogs: the dog must be trained in 3 tasks to aid your disability.

    [B]Why service dogs don’t require vests: [/B]Because sometimes, people with disabilities like to walk around downtown without being asked about their disability every two blocks.
    [B]Why service dogs should always wear vests, and why most every legitimate one will[/B]: Because it allows the person to identify without conversation that they are a disabled person and that this is their service dog. They can usually avoid then, having even to answer “The Two Legal Questions” and go on living a normal day-to-day life. Also, service dogs usually carry valuable ID and medications in their vests. Lastly, the vest informs the public that it is inappropriate to touch, talk to or otherwise interfere with a working service animal while it is performing it’s duty.

    [B][U]The number one rule for passenger and public safety is this: ANY service dog no matter what it’s job description, can be removed from a public place if it behaves in a way that is dangerous towards anyone else’s safety.[/U][/B]
    Example: If a service dog growls at an attendant, it may legally be refused boarding.
    Example: If a service dog urinates or defecates in a movie theatre, it may legally be asked to leave.
    Example: If a service dog licks, sniffs, or otherwise intereferes with a food item in a grocery store that the owner is not purchasing (some dogs or even chimps! can be trained to lift hard-to-reach items off the shelves for people with mobility-related disabilities), it may legally be asked to leave.
    Example: If a dog barks in response to it’s owner’s need for medication or as a seizure alert etc., it MAY NOT be legally asked to leave. This may bother another passenger, but the dog is performing an essential task for it’s handler and so the other person’s slight discomfort is irrelevant.
    Hopefully these examples help you to identify the rights you have in regards to dealing with service dogs.

    [B] Impersonating a disabled person with a service dog in any way is fraud. This includes but is not limited to: Putting a vest on your pet dog and calling it a service dog so that youcan have it in cabin. Putting a vest on your SHOW DOG (this happens often, as far as I have read on these forums and other forums) and calling it a service dog so that you can transfer it to and from showing events. Transporting a service dog in the cabin with you when you are not it’s legally disabled handler. You can and will be fined when you are caught. [/B]
    I have read many of the forums involving service dogs on this site.
    I am fully sympathetic to all those of you who have suffered flights with dogs that were clearly not service animals.
    I am posting this message here (and perhaps on another couple of threads) so that you can all be better educated about the rights of disabled people and your own rights. You will now be able to intelligently approach flight attendants before or during a flight, about a dog on a flight and it’s behavior and validity as a service dog.
    [I][B]Please also realize that service dogs are still dogs, and if one that is seemingly well-trained and well-behaved gets stepped upon, or has nausea on a flight, that some sympathy for the dog and the owner may be required – liken it to travelling with a small child. No responsible parent wants their child to be a disruption and any responsible service dog handler will apologize and make the best efforts, within the parameter of their disability, to rectify the situation.[/B][/I]
    My ultimate goal in posting this is to educate the public. I am hoping that, as staunchly as you all defend your rights to a safe and comfortable trip, that you will also help defend the rights of legally disabled people by exposing people who are clearly impersonators, and by supporting people with legitimate service dogs because really, with our service dogs by our sides, all we’re trying to do is independantly support ourselves.

    Thank you.

    • Dana

      I’d like to add that one must be legally disabled to qualify for an ESA too. The difference is that ESAs aren’t trained to do TASKS – and the tasks they are trained to do have not been recognized by courts as such because they are of “therapeutic” value to the handlers. Imagine that! A medical necessity denied because it is of therapeutic – rather than practical – value.

      PS. Where did you get “at least three tasks”? I’m quite well read on this topic and have never heard that.

      • mjb

        You are wrong. One does NOT have to be “legally disabled” to qualify for an ESA.

  • brittany

    I’m really surprised by people’s hostility here, though I don’t think using such an extreme example like three yapping Pomeranians helped. From the jump, people are going to judge by this biased example and delegitimize actual medical conditions and (approved) coping mechanisms.

    As someone who has previously flown with my emotional support animal, an enormous rather passive cat, I had the best of both worlds. Because my cat was quiet and sweet, other passengers and the crew were happy to see that the situation could be so positive. I held her occasionally but mostly kept her in a carrier on my lap/at my feet. And, the cabin crew, while admittedly a bit skittish at first, perhaps because they thought I would have some sort of meltdown if they asked for my paperwork (which I had, and for which they did not ask), were unusually friendly and courteous once they saw how well the situation would play out. They offered my cat some water and thanked us for flying with them. (Granted, it was JetBlue, and they’re always fabulous, animals on board or otherwise.) I even sent a letter to corporate, thanking them for such amazing service, and got a very sweet reply: “You and Cloe are welcome to fly with us again any time.” Form letter or not, I felt they didn’t have to be so welcoming, but they were nonetheless.

    BTW, not every airline charges fees for emotional support animals. Or at least, they certainly didn’t used to.

  • Steph

    Maybe someone does not need their seeing eye dog during a flight and the crew can compensate for the disability, but what about a dog that can detect seizures? These highly trained dogs can mean the difference between life and death, but should they not be allowed because they make your eyes itch a little bit?

    I’m not attacking you directly, just questioning where the lines are drawn

  • Pingback: 7 Practical Tips for Moving Overseas with a Pet

  • carolina

    You know I am not surprised by the hostility here. As a retired Flight Attendant I have encountered such self centered people many times. They scream about their allergies to pets but I have always told them fortunately the airline does not have to check with each and every passenger if they have an allergy to pets. If we had to ask every passenger what they are allergic to we would never get off the ground. There are allergies to many things, perfume, fur, peanuts, latex etc. There is even an allergy to people who don’t like animals. I know because I have that one. Be prepared when you fly to take precautions for YOUR allergies.

    • Jen

      Interesting, I also suffer from this allergy to people who dont like dogs! :) Peanut allergies can be very serious, anaphylactic shock for example… but people are still allowed to have them on a plane! I’ve never seen anaphylactic shock reaction to a dog. And if that’s the case, you better bring some Benadryl and an epinephrine pen like the other people in the world with severe allergies that are unavoidable.

    • mjb

      As an allergy/asthma sufferer and a flight attendant, I really feel compelled to respond to this posting. My Airline frequently makes accommodations for allergy sufferes. In fact we no longer serve peanuts specifically because of the prevalence of peanut allergies. Animal dander allergies are many times more common than peanut allergies.
      Yesterday, working a flight from JFK to SJU (3+ hrs) there was a passenger in business class with an emotional support dog, which he cuddles and stroked. As he petted the dog, its hair wafted through the small BC cabin, blown about by the airjets. Within an hour other passengers were complaining that there was dog hair in their drinks and in their food. My eyes were itchy, red and watering, my nose was running and I sneezed no less than 25 times during the course of the flight and needed to use my asthma inhaler. The passenger declined our very polite request to put the animal in its carrier. The passenger seated next to him was so annoyed by the hair on his suit that he moved to a coach seat (no other seats were available in BC.) The passenger with the ESA was completely within his legal rights to behave as he did. Evidently MY right to a healthy work environment is now trumped by his mental illness. I think that’s wrong but maybe I’m just “self-centered.”

  • Jane

    I have a very well-behaved 7-year old Cairn terrier who has been traveling in his airline approved carrier bag under my seat since he was 8 months old. The exact same size bag filled with clothes travels for free, but I pay $100 each way (and when Delta briefly bumped their rates to $150 each way, there was a time when his ticket cost more than mine!). I do not get frequent flyer miles for his ticket, nor can I use frequent flyer miles for his fare. He does not bark, whine or ever go to the bathroom when on the plane or in the airport, in fact, the crew and other passengers are usually surprised to learn there was a dog aboard when they see us waiting for a cab. Many airlines do not allow pets to fly in cargo in hot or extremely cold weather, and having seen firsthand a dog escape from it’s cage on the Tarmac (fortunately, it was rescued, filthy but unharmed a week later) I refuse to consider that an option. How many times have airlines lost or delayed my luggage? I’m not going to risk that with my pet. So yes, I think it is awful that airlines charge ridiculous fees for pets. But they have as much right to be on the plane. I have friends with an autistic son and their service dog makes it possible for them to travel at all. The comment that a seeing eye dog should go in the cargo bay during the flight was rude and stupid. These dogs allow their owners to live independent and somewhat normal lives. They don’t want or expect strangers to “butter their toast.” if you are so allergic to pet dancer, do you require that all pet owners make certain their clothes are free of pet hair before sitting next to you? Stay home, less risky!

  • Candace

    I made my cat an emotional support/service animal. She was totally quiet and never went to the bathroom on the plane. I didn’t take her out of her carrier either so her fur wouldn’t fly around and spread dander more. I’m aware that people have allergies but usually there needs to be more than a few specks of dander nearby (like a carpet full of it instead). What about the people who slather on that strong perfumed lotion before and after takeoff?? That makes my nose run too.. or the guy/girl who takes off their shoes and it stinks so bad. No one says anything! They should have to pay $100 both ways to donate $$ for an improved air circulation/ filtration system. Or the guy who keeps farting midway through the flight and you don’t know which direction it’s coming from. How is a cat generally worse than this?

  • susie

    To anyone who thinks it is ridiculous to travel with E.S.A. I have endometrial cancer and it is very anxiety producing. Recently I had to travel to Houston Tx. to be retested and took my dog with me for support she is very comforting and beats more drugs. It is unfortunate people always take thing to extremes and spoil it for those of us who have a well behaved trained dog. She has been my friend and support for 10 yrs. only after my diagnosis did I have her certified as a E.S.A. to be away from her during such a challenging time would be devastating. Hope this sheds some light to the importance of a E.S.A. Namaste`,Susie

  • Zinc

    Heather, try being blind for an hour, and then realize that you’ll now be blind forever. You make close friends with a seeing eye dog who has become your faithful companion, you go everywhere with him. All of a sudden you board an airline and are told that we will now take your friend and place him in the belly of the plane. You wonder, what if something happens on board, what if I need to make a quick exit, or any number of examples will do. HOW, on EARTH can you be so mean about the blind not needing their companion by their side, like it’s just not necessary.

  • Sam

    “Basically, anyone can pass their pooch off as an emotional support animal by purchasing a $10 “Service Animal” vest off the Internet (no documentation is required).”

    Really? Do your homework.

    Although airlines are not permitted to request the particular disorder, you MUST have a letter from a mental health professional in order to fly with an ESA, which must be, as defined by the government:

    “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.”

    I agree that many people take advantage of this legal right, but many people legitimately need it. Mental health has long had a negative stigma attached to it, and it’s time for that to change.

    • Kally

      This is in reply to those who are being negative on the use of emotional support animals, especially the original poster. It is unfortunately true the we have to everyday a great deal of people who misuse the system and abuse disability. It is these people who ruin it for the lagitamitlly disabled people such as myself. I have a small dog and he is my emotional support dog when I fly. I have a long list of disabilities that range from Lupus, Rhurmatoid Arthritis, Connective Tissue Didorder and mental disabilities. I have much more but trying to keep this to the point. I think an airline could reasonably continue to ask for a letter from an actual prescribing mental health professional or MD but also perhaps add as I do when I travel all documentation proving you are disable whether sugned by social security disability or a judge which was my case. This can weed out the fakers perhaps and show the airline that you have a true and lagitamite disability and reason for your support animal to be aboard the craft with you. One more thing to add is I am on list to that gets provided to the airline showing that I am going to be getting a pyschiatric trained service dog. I have impairments that I get faint and fall or forget to take medications when supposed to. These dogs are trained to held me back off the floor and stabilize me up stairs, bring medications, dial 911, clear my throat from choking, bring my meds, and simply comfort me until emergency help arrives. Sorry I babbled there. People just need to understand that there are very true needs for these animals whether it be emotional supports for anxiety on an airplane and amongst crowds, all the way to fully trained service animals for dibilitating medical issues. So please be kind and aware when you come across these folks. What you see on the outside isn’t always how it is on the inside and pray for the cheats and liars that are abusing our county and the disability act. Thank you for reading my note :) have a blessed day!!

  • Maggy

    An emotional support animal isn’t intended to soothe the travelling person just during the plane flight. It’s possible that they enjoy flying. The support animal is there to improve the quality of their life. Emotional support animals are typically assigned to people to treat depression. Not just sadness for a day, but chronic depression. A psychiatrist, with a medical degree and medical license has seen fit to apply this form of therapy for this individual. Are we going to start banning other medical supplies that people need when they travel? Should a diabetic not be allowed to check their insulin levels and administer their own shot because a fellow passenger feels weak at the sight of blood? Are we going to just let blind people only rely on a specialized walking stick? Just because some people abuse this priviledge doesn’t mean it should be ruined for those of us whom service/support animals are a necessity. The animals selected as actual support animals are most often trained animals and they are typically friendly, quiet, and submissive. For those rare occasions when a service animal becomes a nuisance, maybe a little patience is required, just like a talkative or hyperactive child demands a little understanding and patience. Only the bad incidents are brought up in conversations and scathing articles; the good dogs go unnoticed until the end of the flight as passengers exit the plane.

  • Paul

    Two points:

    First of all, who are you to say whether emotional distress is any less debilitating than a physical handicap? And there is a large difference between a psychologist-who cannot prescribe anything, and a psychiatrist. I could be a psychologist in a 3 years with a masters degree, a therapist in one. To be a psychiatrist I’m in for another 8 years at least. Psychiatrists go to medical school. They are doctors and with only a slight modification in their career path could have become physicians.

    And second, can’t you see that requiring a $60,000 training course would only create more problems? People would be applying for disability left and right, asking for all sorts of government and private financial assistance in order to pay that large sum. Those who qualify for certain disabilities would get money from the government in the full amount. And that comes from the taxpayers. The median for American household incomes is roughly $43,000 and only 34% of Americans make $65,000 or higher. The other 2/3 would either have to go without their emotional support animal or request assistance. That’s more than a couple million people asking for $60,000. And think about how much that requirement would hurt those who aren’t attempting to cheat the system. Those people are likely middle-class and have spent a lot of money just to see their psychiatrist. Odds are they can’t afford it, or maybe even half of it.

    • Dana

      You’re so right about the finances – and let me add that people with disabilities are not exactly setting the earnings curve. My emotional problems prevent me from holding a job and there are many others in the same position.

  • Aaron

    It is discriminatory that airlines charge different amounts for what people are bringing on board. If I bring a small dog in a bag and place it under the seat, just like I would any other property of mine, and my dog bothers nobody, what right does an airline have to charge me $160? This is not a fair price, and it is not surprising that people look for ways around that.

  • Country Mom

    I always travel with Dog’s when I go on vacation.Im a firm believer in if you travel with Pets make arrangements for them as you would if you travel with Children. I make sure they have their favorite toys, treats and chewy bones.
    I myself “HATE” being next to LOUD Kids and the Parents just sit there doing NOTHING, when my Dog’s that I travel with start making a noise I stop it right then. It is all courtesy is all it is, I won’t stop traveling with my Dog’s as I’m sure they won’t stop traveling with their kids.So let’s just be grown up’s about it !!

  • Shannon D

    I’m traveling (again) with my dog (ESA) in the next week. I’ve heard some horror stories, like those Pomeranians. Honestly, the issues would probably be totally resolved if dogs were required to pass the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test. CGC testing is available for ANY dog, purebred or mixed, registered or not – and it’s not terribly expensive. It’s basic manners interacting with people in a public place. There is NO dog who shouldn’t be able to pass the test, unless it has some major issues of its own – in which case, why SHOULD it be an ESA? Additionally, if allergies are the issue – what about severe allergies to fragrances or cleaners? I help plan a conference where we have a no-scent policy that attendees are made aware of before the conference because we have people who attend who ARE severely allergic. Allergens can be seriously reduced by bathing… and I’m pretty sure service dogs (other than ESAs) aren’t normally out and about dirty and gross and unbathed, so why should ESAs be? I think it all comes down to not abusing the system (which people are going to do no matter what) and to being respectful of others, whether they’re allergic, afraid, or just don’t like dogs/cats/whatever else.

  • Linda

    One can ask what services an animal performs for them and require documentation for animals that are solely emotional support animals or others who don’t provide credible assurance that their animal performs a specific task for them. I agree animals who have no training ought not be called service animals, emotional support or otherwise. An animal who snarls at a gate agent could be banned from the flight because of it isn’t in control of its owner. I’d also argue one human can’t properly control 3 dogs so should be allowed either. As a person who uses a well-trained mobility assistance dog, stories like this just piss me off!

  • Rainbeaufriend

    This article is entirely inaccurate and inflammatory. An ESA MUST HAVE A CURRENT LETTER FROM A QUALIFIED PHYSICIAN and there are numerous other inaccuracies here. This article should be removed since it’s filled with faksehoods and the author should considet actually doing research next time. A simple web search would have helped the author get factual info instead if this ideologically based diatribe. The example of the Pomeranians is not legit.

  • Sara

    I travel with an ESA and he is well behaved. I always bring his vet records and the letter that my therapist wrote for me. I have severe anxiety when I fly and I hate taking Xanax or any pills for that matter. If I can find comfort in a pet and not drug myself, I would much rather prefer that.  Airline workers need to understand this.

  • Jdf_32

    Back in the 50′s dogs rode with passengers.  allergics take xyzal and sleep through the flight.  I need to take my dog to another country with many connecting flights.  I have manic depression and will be away from family and friends.  Airlines reserve the right to require they are boarded if they are too big to fit and can’t accomdate them.  

  • Jen

    I’ve had a bad experience flying and think of this often when I get on a plane. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was younger, tried two different SSRI medications, ended up with Seratonin Syndrome and was started on daily Xanax. I felt like a zombie and because I was going to school to be in the medical field myself, couldn’t take these while providing care to patients. (You want your nurse under the influence of narcotics?) So I’ve just learned to deal with it. Flying, however, remains a frightful situation for me. Admittedly, I’ve flown without my dog and done fine. I’ve had prescriptions for Valium for longer flights, but it doesn’t get rid of the anxiety, just makes you sleepier and less panicked. It also comes with a nasty hungover feeling for hours. So. Do I want to take my dog with me? Yes. Does it make sense for me to pay $100 per SEGMENT to take her? Hell no. Her flights are more expensive than mine, which is interesting considering she is considered my carry-on bag and has to remain zipped up under the seat like any other bag I’d have. So. $400 to take a small, quiet, well behaved dog under a seat? Nope. She is there for emotional support as far as I’m concerned. I’m also not so bat shit crazy to have her running through the aisles. But, these are potential problems with having any animal on board, not necessarily an ESA. It’s a dog. Get over it. I live in SoCal and she is allowed to go most places, and welcomed with a smile. Places serving food being the exception, which is just fine. I support that. I also support airlines changing the policy of charging insane fees for a small carry-on pet shoved under the seat the same as any other piece of luggage I would have brought. Truth be told, I’d be happier not to have a physician write a letter saying I suffer from a disability if I could afford to have her travel as a pet. But the frequency with which I now fly doesn’t permit that. So, you may consider this an abuse. I consider it a reasonable accommodation.

  • Run4theluv

    Reannon you have no clue what it’s like to live with PTSD and fly. Screw you. 

  • lhimmels

    Give me a break–nervous people successfully flew on planes long before this emotional support animal scam started.  Rather than cling to their pets, these people learned adult coping skills to handle their anxiety. 

    • Dana

      I just changed my mind about never wishing my condition on anyone. I hope someday you experience what I go through every day. I am not weak or immature, no one who knows me thinks so, and your condescension is inexcusable. Before people had the right to ESAs they may have just suffered more. How do you know that isn’t the case?

  • lhimmels

    To know-it-all flight attendant Carolina:  Your hypocrisy is sickening.  To passengers who have a true medical allergy to dogs you say “Be prepared when you fly to take precautions for YOUR allergies”.  To someone who may just be a nervious flyer, you say go ahead and bring an animal on the plane. 

    • Dana

      Exactly. People need to take responsibility for keeping their allergies under control – just as I take responsibility for keeping my panic attacks under control – by having my ESA accompany me.

    • Gigi Griffis

      Here’s the problem: we’re not talking about nervous flyers. You can’t get the appropriate doctor’s letter for being a nervous flyer. You get it for having a mental health disability. And those who have allergies to animals will generally be fine as long as they are placed far from the animal. If you have an allergy, you can ask to change seats. Just like I, as a person allergic to cucumber, can ask for salads with no cucumber. Allergies are much easier to manage. That’s the point people are trying to make. 

      • mjb

        Unless of course you are a flight attendant, like me, with severe allergies/asthma to dogs and cats. Then my right to a safe and healthy work environment can be compromised by these people with their animals.

        • Gigi Griffis

          I’m so sorry about your severe allergies/asthma. I guess my question then becomes what do you do about service dogs for the blind?

        • cinnamngrl

          All of the airlines allow pets in the passenger cabin. Service animals, emotional support animals and paid for pets for $100-$175 per leg of travel. I think you should bring up this problem with your employer

  • Brooke

    I’m torn by the debate above.  Firstly, I think it’s important to clarify that ESAs are not “prescribed” for the actual flight as  you seem to infer above.  Rather, they can be prescribed for everyday life when you need them for legitimate reasons.  Many people who have an ESA need them to manage everyday life, but are not afraid of flying and do not need their presence for that.  

    This leads me to my second point.  Why is the only solution to allow these pets in the cabin?  It seems much more legitimate (and respectful of other passengers) to allow them to fly with the rest of the checked luggage.  Perhaps if airlines changed their fee policies for ALL pets (making them reasonable – i.e., the fee for a checked bag, $25, instead of the fee for an animal, $250), then the ESA policy would not get abused.  Passengers requiring an ESA to accompany them on trips could simply have their pet fly in the cargo area for a reasonable price.  I think most ESA passengers would agree, that the anxiety caused by bringing their pet on the plane and subjecting other passengers/crew members to their pet is probably worse than the few hours they spend without him/her if they were under the plane.  Any thoughts on this potential compromise?

    • Dana

      This is simply not the case. Those of us suffering from social phobias need our animals the MOST when we are in crowded places where there is no privacy.

      • Gigi Griffis

        I agree with Dana. Some people need their ESA for the flight itself and others need it immediately as they disembark. And putting the animal on as cargo (which, by the way, is very risky and could cause injury, illness, or death for the animal) could push someone with panic disorder into a panic attack on the flight. I guarantee you that would be worse than sitting next to a real ESA (which, as people have said, would be well-trained, as real ESAs are).

  • Bonnie

    Wow…I hardly know where to start! You sound like a bitter critter…first of all, YOU, as an airline professional, are completely within federal guidelines if you would have informed this woman that her animals were not under control….they MUST be well behaved, and under their owners command…..if an animal is threatening, with size, voice, or posture, you are well within your rights, as ANYONE in the airport would have been, to report the situation…too bad you seem to be so afraid of a lawsuit to your company…..I have been travelling with my support animal for four years… is sad that, because you can SEE a PHYSICAL injury, you can accept it…but you can’t SEE an EMOTIONAL injury…..
    You sayL Or maybe the real problem lies with why people feel they have to rely on emotional support animals in the first place. Because if people are so afraid to fly that they need Old McDonald’s farm on-board with them, then perhaps what they need isn’t a more relaxed definition of the term “handicapped” but rather, a better therapist.
    WOW! I hope you NEVER have to feel the anxiety that I feel in situations where others are fine….I wish you a life of health and happiness….why can’t you do the same for others?
    Just because there are a few persons who disobey the law, can’t you see the good it does for the many? I guess not….you think people can bring “old mcdonald’s farm” on the plane….you are soooooo wrong, and shame on you for NOT speaking up in a situation you could have done something about!!

  • Nutnschool

    Your comments on the emotionally handicapped are terribly rude, Ms. Narcissist. While some people need emotional support, you need a lesson in sensitivity towards other people’s feelings.

    Your arguments are so week you should be embarrassed! How can you say that a medical doctor writes a prescription based on his “imagination”? How can you accuse an emotionally distressed person of having an “imaginary” condition? If that is the case, how do you know that YOU are not the one with an imaginary superior ability to solve other people’s problems?

    You’re nothing but a hater.

  • Krs551

    The lack of awareness of the regulations is what is quite shocking from this airline “professional.”  ESA must be well-behaved or they are not service animals and can be disallowed access to the plane.  Service animals that perform a particular function do not have to be certified or professionally trained in order to qualify as service animals in all aspects of our society.  The reason for this fact is that a requirement of certification would discriminate against those with less money and just because you are middle class or poor and disabled should not mean that you cannot have a service animal.  Your service animal must still be well-trained and well-behaved – but they do not have to have expensive certification.  This author should learn the rules and follow them before spouting off with hatred toward those with special needs.

    • Jess

      I was looking into this because I was aware that they did need to be certified trained and I saw the mix up. Depending on the airline a service animal is required to acquire basic training skills and documentation confirming this. A service dog is different from an emotional support dog. Airlines simply assume that the dog is well-behaved. The service animals are required to be able to accomplish tasks for those who are handicapped or impaired such as loss of eyesight, hearing, those who cannot walk, etc. The tasks aren’t things like potty training them which should be a given because I don’t know anyone who enjoys their cleaning up their animals pee around their house. The animal is required to do things like waking the person up when need be, alarming the owner when there is an issue, picking items up for the owner when they are commanded, and some other things. I’m sure the tasks are situational though.

      • Micah Price

        You should look up (google/bing) the differences between Emotional Support and Service Animals. Often these two are confused and the regulations governing their use and training can be different.

  • ProperPawsDT

    As a professional dog trainer, I believe that it all depends. I personally think that as we have to have passports, it should be required that these ESD carry their own form of “passport” that MUST be renewed annually and must be presented when tickets are purchased. Within the “passport” should be a medical form from a physician with whom the paitent is under the care of stating that they need this animal, as well as a form stating that this dog has undergone formal training

    • ProperPawsDT

      *ESA sorry :). I don’t think it should be limited to them either, but any service animal. Unfortunately, this is more time consuming with those that do have disabilities, but at the same time it will keep those that take advantage of this from ruining it for the people that do need these animals
      Service animals are NOT pets, they are working animals

  • Dana

    Bonnie is right – even bona fide service animals can be excluded if they are creating a true disturbance (barking, running around, aggression toward others, not being under the handler’s control at all times). Blanket bans on service animals are not allowed, but specific animals certainly can be excluded. I voted “it depends” because, as someone who truly needs my ESA, I feel that disruptive animals SHOULD be excluded – not because their owners might be trying to game the system (which might or might not be the case) – but because having ESAs and service dogs exhibiting this kind of behavior turns public sentiment against ESAs and service dogs – as it clearly has in your case.

    Bonnie is also right about the impact of emotional problems on people’s lives. Many people experience depression or anxiety, and these conditions do not always meet the definition of “disabilities” under federal regulation. I have a personality disorder with depression, anxiety, social phobia, and medically significant insomnia as “side effects” of this underlying condition. I would not wish this on anyone. The pain and fear I experience are truly debilitating and crippling, and are made more so by the fact that others don’t understand why I am “emotionally needy” and “can’t just grow up” and “stop being spoiled,” or people all around me who think I need “tough love.” From my perspective, your attitude is completely insulting. 

    Do you know what it feels like to walk around with a dog wearing a vest that says “Emotional Support Animal” in big, bold letters? Do you have ANY idea? Can you imagine effectively wearing a conspicuous sign everywhere you go, advertising that you have severe psychiatric problems? I hear lots of talk about people gaming all kinds of systems (disability, welfare, etc. etc.) but I think these are largely “straw man” arguments. Anyone who would go through this to avoid paying a $100 fee does have a serious problem – whether they know it or not. Normal people find this humiliating.

    Here’s another thing – people with real emotional problems can be unpleasant to be around. They can appear to have an attitude of entitlement – I know this firsthand. Just because you read a person this way doesn’t mean that’s who they are. Your perception is based on five minutes observation of people but their reality is ongoing.

    I would suggest having some more compassion than you seem to have. You seem to be very concerned about people taking advantage of the system, while people with real disabilities whom the system is intended for are an afterthought. But I would also suggest that you take a more aggressive stance on excluding untrained, aggressive, or truly disruptive animals – and that people with ESAs and service dogs recognize the importance of training their animals before bringing them into public, for the benefit of everyone.

  • anonymous

    I totally understand where you are coming from, especially considering these people who pass off their ten parakeets as “emotional support animals” really cause an inconvenience for those of us who truly need them. I suffer from severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which causes me EXTREME anxiety while traveling, and i would not be able to fly without my dog. She is very well trained and i have a real letter from a real psychologist stating that she is necessary. I believe that there should be restrictions, like for instance, only allowing one pet per person (you only need one fir emotional support), and requiring them to behave in the same manner that a service dog must. Service dogs do NOT need to be certified, but if they growl, bite, urinate, bark excessively, etc. they can be forced to leave. Many people, myself included, need these animals in order to travel by air, but, if people just stepped up the rules a little bit, we would avoid the three snarling pommeranians.

  • Anonymous

    I am strongly allergic to dogs and have come across service dogs in libraries, airplanes, and schools. And as with animals in this piece, the many of the dogs I’ve come across were not trained and not well controlled by their owners.

    I also have a mental illness. So I try to empathize with the owners. I really do. I also appreciate the creativity of this use of empathetic animals.I really do hate  coming down on people who are already struggling/in pain and combating stigma. BUT, I also struggle with why their need for an animal is taking higher precedence than my need to breathe. Not able to have an emotional support animal, I have other techniques, skills, and even a beloved stuffed animal, which have all helped me with my mental illness. It also really sucks to be allergic to dogs. You can’t play with them, touch them, visit friends who have dogs, ect. I have had to go to the ER a few times and once almost crashed a rental car that wasn’t properly cleaned out post-dog use. I live in a city where dogs can ride public buses and often get off miles before my stop because I’m too embarrassed to speak up or can’t talk to the owner because of proximity.I would love to come up with a win-win for both of us… like can’t service and emotional support dogs be hypoallergenic? Or even better, if the mental illness became less taboo and more money was spent learning to cure and alleviate mental illnesses WITHOUT the need for service animals. Have others with mental illness tried these techniques before getting an emotional support animal? I’m sure I come off as selfish, but I wish these animals were truly last resort options. I’m sure it isn’t easy getting an emotional support animal, none the less having to explain its presence to others in public.I’m sorry. I know this isn’t a popular answer and I do empathize with the struggle.I do feel like the piece was a bit harsh and not PC, but I also hope that it opens a helpful dialogue so that we can move closer to a safer, better accepted place for those struggling with mental illness and for people who struggle with allergies that are often minimalized.

  • Sting

    that women is a pretty extreme example, and would be excluded under the DOT rule about blocking the row.  But the truth is, deep down, people hate sick people and have always found some way to undermine any accommodation that people need. These articles don’t have any real data on whether people are faking this.  I have a ESA and I have been asked for my letter every single time I travel.  Not a single airline employee has shown any restraint or concern for my privacy.  And I am happy to follow all the posted rules.  I would point out, that the airlines charge $175 per leg of travel to put a cat or dog under the seat instead of carry-one luggage.  not one of these critical articles has ever explained what that money is for. 

  • Jess

    Admittedly I haven’t read all 97 comments for this article but from what I have read I don’t think some of you have looked at the underlying issue that I personally got out of this article. The point of this employees complaint I’m sure is not to offend those who are in need of an emotional support animal or a service animal but is directed towards those who are simply cheating the system. Although the system is somewhat bullshit so really the question should not be whether or not animals should be allowed but rather what steps should be taken in order for that pet to be allowed.

    First of all the airlines need to stop bleeding their costumers wallets for every penny they can get their hands on after that costumer has just purchased a skyrocketing priced airline ticket instead of purchased skyrocketing priced gas.
    Secondly, on all of the airlines websites they have already stated in the animal requirements that you need documentation and contact information to your healthcare professional so all of this talk about being slapped with a discrimination lawsuit for asking for the documentation is not even a valid issue.
    Thirdly, the other customers on the flight should be notified of the pet at ticket pick-up or purchase to avoid anything such as allergies and other issues. This shouldn’t be an issue considering seats are predetermined and you have to notify the airlines of your in-cabin pet at least 2 days prior to the flight sometimes even longer in advance.
    Lastly, people don’t train their pets are, in my personal opinion, irresponsible and should’t own the pet in the first place. This goes without saying that your pets needs to be capable of behaving on the plane and not going to restroom on someones handbag no matter how ugly you think that handbag is. =)
    I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well as Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was younger and these are accepted as reasons for having an emotional support animal. I have been looking into this recently because I would like to fly to see family during the holidays and last year I flew with my 9 week old puggle having to pay $125 on top of my ticket for her to fall asleep in a $35 soft sided cage under the seat in front of me. Now she is to big for that soft sided cage and about the size of a beagle at a little over one year of age. She can no longer fly in cabin but I need her to. Honestly I should have done this last year if I only I had taken the time to read up on their policies. This year she will be traveling as an emotional support dog. In all honesty I would probably freak out if she was with the luggage because I would be scared for her safety. I’ve seen the way the luggage is handled. What is it’s too cold? Too hot? What if baggage gets mixed up? What if her cage falls off the truck in transport to the plane from check-in? Also my dog barks and barks and barks non-stop when I leave her in new surroundings and I am not within eyesight of her. The vet says its seperation anxiety which I had no idea dogs were even capable of having!

  • Micah Price

    As a Licensed Psychologist I’ve written letters for multiple patients who needed an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). In my opinion part of ethically giving someone that letter involves their understanding of the responisibility they assume for using their animal as an ESA. The ESA should not be subjected to undue duress. If the animal is unable to cope properly then their ability to support the disabled individual is limited and they may even cause greater distress. I’ve never had anyone ask for large numbers of emotional support birds or anything unusual and would be cautious if someone felt that such would be effectively supportive. I also do not just write a letter based on a single visit or just because someone wants to avoid paying airfare. The person must legitimately have a mental health need for the animal. These individuals often suffer from anxiety or depressive disorders and the animal aids in their coping with certain stressors. I don’t know of any Psychologists who abuses the ESA recommendation and have never seen it abused while flying, so my guess is that the problems with abuse are limited, but have no research to support that. I have no problem with an airline respectfully asking for a confirmatory letter to prevent abuse, contacting the prescriber with questions, or establishing guidelines so as to not disrupt the flights of others (such as no ESA horses). However, individuals with mental health disabilities should not be treated as second class citizens because someone doesn’t think their disabilities are less than real. Micah Price, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist FL 

    • Gigi Griffis

      Great reply, Micah. I’d also add that any abuses that are happening are probably because the airlines aren’t checking the documentation. 

  • Carly2010

    You are immature, cold, detached emotionally yourself and not a great writer.  When you watch 3 ladies jump from the North Tower of The World Trade Center, then you can come back to me and bitch about emotional support animals you obtuse, clueless, insensitive, selfish moron. 

    • Nick

      Berating the writer does not even come close to helping you make a counter argument. While some parts of this article may come off as harsh and/or blunt it does bring up a good point. Emotional support animals can be a great help to people who need them but where do you draw the line? If we’re to accept these animals as genuine treatments to anxiety and other emotional problems, is it really unfair to ask they be trained and/or certified as any other service animal would be? As stated in the article some animals can serve as a detriment to other passengers with crippling allergies or even their own anxiety over said animals (there are lots of people who have a severe fear of dogs), are these people not entitled to a sense of well being as well? I don’t agree with the article on all of its points but it is unfair and extremely immature of yourself to try and diminish what she is trying to say with name calling because you have a conflicting opinion on the matter.

      • Dixie Wilson-Williams

        Nick, you don’t draw a line on service animals.  Emotional support animals can be restricted in some retail establishments.  Generally, it is a violation of a person’s right to personal privacy and their HIPAA rights to have to justify any medical or psychological treatment they are engaged in, and service animals are part of that.  So are emotional support animals.  Saying a person should not take their support or service animal with them because another person might be inconvenienced is to deny equal access to the disabled person just because they are disabled.  If the airline has the right to ask for a letter from their physician or counselor then they should have done so.  It would hold up in court.  Federal law also allows for a handler to have their animal removed in cases such as the barking Pomeranians or the animal the pilot had to chase.  Why didn’t the handler chase the animal down?  And of course no one wants to consider how the animal may also be nervous in a confined space with no familiar smells, routine broken, and the energy of intolerant people such as the agent who wrote this piece and the pilot she mentioned.  I would say you also have much to learn, Nick.  The writer of the article above actually ended up having nothing concrete to say,  it was really more a complaint then a concrete statement about being inconvenienced by disabled people and their animals.

    • Cheviot

      Because writing an asinine reply proves the writer wrong…

    • sarah

      Agreed Carly!

    • mjb

      PULEEEEEZ! 9/11 didn’t just happen to you. I didn’t just watch it happen, I actually LOST my best friend when he died that day. How dare you cheapen that event by using it to justify your “emotional support” animal that you impose onto everyone else in such cramped public venues as airplanes. If you’re such an emotional wreck that you cannot board an airplane without your filthy ass-licking dog then stay at home. But don’t use your observation of other peoples’ tragedy to make your wobbly case.

  • Robert Revet

    In the 80s nd the 90s we had dogs to guide the blind and those who had hearing difficulties, all absolutely within the limits. But these “support dogs” are in 90% of the caes absolute nonsense!

  • Toni Balch

    If note from proper Dr. and small enough animal and passenger can control the animal I believe they should be able to fly with their animal.  I have an allergy free 13 pound dog and have cancer. I have to fly from Costa Rica to the U.S. for check ups and treatments and my small, well behaved animal makes me feel less anxious about flying alone to follow up on the cancer. He sits quietly on my lap. Friendly, doesn’t cause allergies and leaves others’ alone. I need him to prevent panic attacks since my diagnosis and flying. He helps me but doesn’t harm others.  To me it’s just as bad, maybe worse having a screaming baby next to you and parents have to be up and down and standing in the isle.

  • Boscaffary

    i am on the fence.  i am a flight attendant with a major airline, dogs for the seeing impaired as well as military and police dogs have been allowed on board without question.  however more and more, we are seeing  “therapy animals” that are running around the cabin, biting other passengers,  just to avoid being kept in the carry on kennel.   anybody with animal hair allergies, especially in a closed space, always take a backseat to these passengers.  they arrive at their destination with watery eyes and stuffy noses.  this dog was eating dog treats off the tray table, licking it.  the animal had no vest on.   i told the woman, the dog needed to remain in the kennel.   she snapped at me that is was a therapy dog.    i told her, that it was people table. and people ate off it.  ilove animals…      but it is getting ridiculous.    so let me get this right.  if dog has to stay in the kennel,  then the pax might try to open the door in flight.    i don’t get it

  • Bdrl

    Not everyone takes advantage of the system. Whomever wrote the Pomeranian lady a note saying she needs 3 emotional support animals should have his license taken away!  I myself suffer from a tremendous fear of flying and use an emotional support dog to deal with it. My husband works internationally so NOT flying is NOT an option for us….the dog gives me something to focus my energy on during the flight so I don’t turn into a total psychotic basket case….my dog is well trained, quiet and will sit in my lap, at my feet, or even in a small carrier under the seat at times.  Honestly, would you rather sit next to me and my small, well behaved dog….or me in a state of panic; crying, vomiting, hyperventilating, and praying that the plane does not fall from the sky or burst into flames?

  • Jonnyfiverypsi

    You are horrible person to write something like this, ESA are ADA protect. You should think further then your limited life and consider others. 

  • Alana Melago

    I have recently been searching the internet for information regardng traveling with emotional suppport dogs and the legal issues associated with them.  I will be traveling alone to California from Indiana for surgery for a brain tumor that was operated on 2 years ago  but unfortunately has since grown back. My dog is a well behaved, quiet 4 pound Yorkshire Terrier.  She has never flown before and I presume it shall be somewhat stressful for her.  I on the other hand, am not fearful of flying but wish to have my dog accompany for the emotional support that she will provide throughout my visit in LA.  Although I am more than happy to pay the fee for her travel, my concern is that I want to allow her to sit in my lap due to her size and potential fear.  She absolutely provides me with the emotional support that I need and will need during this most unusual and difficult time but I don’t feel right asking my neurosurgeon to provide me with documentation indicating my dog is necessary for “emotional support”.  I think that goes above and beyond his duties to me as my doctor. Also i would like to add that as a result of the tumorbeing removed 2 years ago  I have been left deaf in one ear. Frequently my dog has alerted me to wake when I otherwise could not hear for myself.  My intentions are not to beat the system nor do I want special treatment.  I just simply wish to travel with my companion on this difficult journey.   

  • Reasonablyblunt

    This is ridiculous. The writer is referring to the people that abuse this privilege. So in my opinion if you’re upset by this article you’re probably one of the d0uche bags that take advantage of the system. Carly2010 obviously needs more therapy and is an ass for using the tragedy of the World Centers to insult someone. Thank you and goodnight.  

  • Chris

    I was barked at by an “emotional” support dog for two hours between LA and Chicago after the owner took an ambian and put a sleeping mask on. There are other ways to travel and if you are too emotionally unstable to fly in a plane without your purse dog on your lap, then maybe you shouldn’t be on a plane at all.

  • Bus Driver

    Thanks for your article. I’m a bus driver and we have the same problem. The emotional support pit bulls run up and down the aisle and frighten the passengers. We have had boa  constrictors, rats, hamsters and birds brought on the bus, all as emotional support animals. Someone even tried to bring on a small horse one day, a supervisor declined that one but this delayed the bus for 20 minutes. The point is these are people who know the law and are just transporting animals at the inconvenience of everyone else. How would you like to be next to someone with a snake wrapped around their neck while a pit bull runs up and down the aisle? Would that meet your needs as a passenger?  

  • guest

    You are assuming that these people are bringing their pets along as emotional support because they are afraid to fly.  Read the airline’s policies: they all say that the pet is required for emotional support during the flight OR at the destination.  What if someone with PTSD or bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder, is fine with flying, but the place where they’re going is guaranteed to provoke an anxiety attack?  Some of the emotional support animals might be stressed and anxious about flying, too, but they are there to accompany their owner and calm them down once they land.  

    The article is insightful in a few ways: by highlighting the fact that some people are taking advantage of the policies and not controlling their animals when they are on board.  However, not a lot of research was done (all information that you could have found online) before the opinionated post was made.  It seems a bit shallow.

  • Dixie Wilson-Williams

    If you were as educated on emotional support animals, therapy animals, and service animals as you think you are, you might not write such a hateful article.  The reason you aren’t supposed to ask is because people like you will simply decide on your own if that person needs the animal or not even though you aren’t a qualified physician or counselor.  You are judging all service animals based on the action you SUSPECT might be less than honest.  It’s a good thing I don’t judge the company you work for by your lack of education on this matter or the pilot’s annoyance at accommodating disabled people who use services or emotional support animals.  If I did judge you as you judge me, I would never, ever use your airline…that is if you had the courage the state the company’s name.  Perhaps you would be better off in a job that doesn’t work with the public, or at least not work with the disabled.  

  • Sting

    I have been researching this somewhat because i have an ESA, and I have read a couple of similar inflammatory articles against emotional support animals.  I always end up questioning the facts.  I mean DOT clearly says animal, not multiple animals.  And DOT also talks about blocking the aisles, etc.   I am not denying that there are real problems, and the comments people are believable enough.  I would just like to verify some of the facts.  I would point out that I am asked for my letter every single time I get on the plane, and I am never allowed to have my dog on my lap.   and over christmas I had to actually had to contact the ADA because the airline decided my therapist (licensed by the state, no complaints on file) was a quack. 

  • Kblynn

    I have been seated directly behind an emotional support dog on a plane and never even knew it. On the other hand, I have been onboard listening to screaming children and then thought I needed a support dog of my own. Can we then eliminate any inconvenience to already uncomfortable air transportation? Just wondering.

  • Gigi Griffis

    There are a few things here that should be noted:

    1. Airlines require you to have a letter from a licensed mental health professional, stating that you have a disability and require the animal for your disability. This isn’t something a mental health professional just gives out because someone is afraid to fly. It’s about mental disability.

    2. Perhaps the problem is with the airlines not asking for the appropriate documentation. If someone brings their badly behaved animal and claims it is for their disability, you should ask for the letter. The airlines all have details about the letters on their websites and will give you details about them if you call as well. If the person doesn’t have the documentation, that’s on them. 

    3. Just because people game the system (which people do with regular service dogs as well) doesn’t mean that people who actually need their ESA should suffer. It just means airlines should take some responsibility and ask for the documentation that they require. Asking for ESA documentation isn’t something they should be afraid of. 

    4. Airlines will let you switch seats if you have an allergy. I don’t see the problem with that. It’s a small inconvenience. 

    It really bothers me that you belittled people in your final paragraph. You clearly don’t understand what ESAs are for. They can only be prescribed to people with disabilities that significantly impact their lives. It’s not necessarily something they can just get over. And it may have nothing to do with fear of flying. 

  • Sam

    What a cold hearted whore this Reannon Muth is

  • MonicaDel

    But emotional support animals are not service animals. ??? REALLY!! as for what my previous psychologist and my new psychiatrist say, I’m incapable of doing anything; so i need an ESD. i thought this was going to be a good post, i felt offended instead.

    • MonicaDel

      “”This isn’t to say that emotional support animals don’t provide a valuable service for those who truly depend on them. Anyone who has experienced the unconditional love of a dog couldn’t dispute the fact that they and other pets provide love and comfort… especially to those suffering from anxiety or depression.”"- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - — – - – - – - – - – - – - - 
      i really think you are an asshole! i suffer from depression, bipolarity, anxiety, ADHD, i used to cut my self, i can’t stand people touching me, even if its my mom or dad, i can’t make friends, I’m incapable of making a bond with them because I’m afraid i’ll lose them any moment, and a lot more things that changed in me when my brother died.
      i understand there’s people out there who lie about their need of an ESD, but theres also people like me, who need this special someone who makes our life easier. I depent on Makenna, an YES! She provides me a valuable service!

  • Sting

    service animals have standardized training related to the service they perform.  While some ESA have training, there is no agreed standard.  And they don’t really need training to provide emotional support.  The DOT provides for them and it seems fair to me that there is a difference.  I am an ESA owner.  

  • Brian

    Emotional support animals should be required to be trained and certified to the level of service animals. The owners should have to get a federal permit, based on a review by an emotional support certification board, signed by a judge and endorsed by a medical doctor. If you ‘need’ to fly with three yappy Pomeranians, then prove it to a judge.

    Perhaps, I need to fly with my pistol, for emotional support. After 9/11, perhaps I can’t get on airplanes without severe anxiety because of a terror threat. So can I take an emotional support pistol on board? Why are my rights being infringed based on my disability?

    It’s one thing to protect the rights of the truly disabled, but it’s another thing to infringe on the rights of others who are not disabled. By the way, anyone needing an emotional support animal is 9 out of 10 times not really disabled. It’s a scam. What did people do before emotional support animals were allowed everywhere?

  • Brian

    Additionally, what happens if a passenger has an extreme fear of dogs? Who wins in that situation? The emotionally unstable person who needs the dog or the emotionally unstable one who can’t handle a dog? What if one passenger ‘needs’ a dog and another ‘needs’ a cat? What if my baby is bitten by one of the emotional support animals? Would I have the right to kill the offending dog without facing a federal lawsuit? As a parent, what law is protecting my rights to not have to sit next to someone’s idea of a emotional support beast?

    Service Animals should always be allowed — they’re highly trained. Emotional support animals are an entirely different situation.

  • Fu

    When your TSA agents can stop using their job as an excuse to feel people up and make children cry, you can have an opinion on what people need and don’t need. K Bitch!

  • Frustrated Flier

    You’ve got to be kidding me!!! It’s bad enough that we have to deal with screaming, undisciplined little children totally destroying our 4-hour flight — now we have to add animals to the mix!!  Someone how I’m starting my own airline – and be completely discriminatory - a “family section” in the back – complete with toys and divider between sections, no pets (and I love our Chihuahua), and no allowance for reclining of seats unless there’s no one behind you!  Bet I’d have the fastest growing airline in the world!

  • MEG

    This article embarrasses me as a human being. I have 2 sisters who are mentally ill and i cannot believe they are surrounded by selfish heartless people like you. Historically animals, especially dogs and cats have supported the health of many people. Autistic children often are prescribed with an emotional support dog/cat. Yes people take advantage of the system like the “lady” in your article, but there is a lot of people who really need their support. How selfish of you and the other people complaining about the “inconvenience” of a few hours of the duration of the flight! Airlines SHOULD always accommodate the handicap/mentally unstable people no conditions attached!

  • SheilaOConnery

    This author lacks a compassion chip!  Wow…  what a saddening article to read. I grew up with a father who had polio and maybe this made me hyper-aware of people with disabilities.  I’m sort of shocked by the psuedo-cavalier, psuedo-humorous tone that is so innappropriate.  

  • Growup

    Oh but if we pay the airlines $100 than by all means let them be on the plane? I’m sorry to say but your Bonsai Tree does not offer the same support that an animal does to someone who is suffering from PTSD and can barely leave his house. Using your rationality maybe we should do away with disability because there are people out there who abuse the system, or any kind of financial or physical support that we offer at all. Learn what your talking about before you write and try to stay of portraying the most extreme cases you have come across as the norm.

  • D Cgoodfallow

    The sad thing is there are fakers out there. I don’t think that Emotional Support animals should be banned but I do think that papers should be presented. I have an emotional support dog who helps me cope with sever depression and social anxiety as well as panic attacks. I frequently fly with him but I always show his papers, his id, and my perscription note when checking in. And while emotional support animals don’t have to go through certain procedures the way service dogs do they are expected to behave themselves (for example no long periods of barking and no making a no nuisance of themselves)

  • Me

    Maybe if the airlines made air travel more comfortable and less traumatic, passengers might not need to have their emotional support animals with them unless crated under the seat.  I know that my emotional support animal would be very unhappy flying in a crate under a seat, or in my lap, or any other way.  But I know that if that were not the case, I would be much happier if I had to fly if my ESA could sit in my lap. 

  • MónicaD

    JA! Absolutely great writing.. I hated it though!

  • Evelyn

    I have an emotional support animal that has made my life so much better and I am thankful the airlines allows him to travel with me.  The first time I flew he got a little yappy until the stewardess finally realized he was allowed to sit on my lap.  Once on my lap he lay there in my arms and slept.    While he was yapping I felt horrible that I was making others feel bothered but he was no more annoying than a crying, screaming little child.   The airlines does not ask little kids to not fly…and I am not saying they should.   My dog has filled a hole in my heart left by the death of one of my children.  I know he cannot replace her but he makes me feel loved and needed.  The day I adopted my baby I smiled again.

  • Robyn M Blauberg

    Instead of being compared to service animals, ESA’s should be in their own category. And in order to be allowed special access, they should require a doctor’s prescription, to be shown at the request of, for example, an airline or a landlord. ESA’s are necessary for certain people (1, *maybe* 2 per person, not 3!), and I don’t want to discriminate between someone that suffers from a physical disability and someone that suffers from a psychiatric disability. Service animal for the physical, ESA for the psychiatric. All with a doctor’s note.

    And how about, instead of deciding whether to charge a fee up-front, there could be a fee for people who cause a certain level of distress? Imagine if someone with a screaming kid or untrained animals had to worry about getting a citation? Extra charges if there’s urine or feces on someone else’s handbag! If they want to fight it in court like any other citation, let them, it will still be a deterrent because no one, especially with a psychiatric disability, wants to either pay a huge fine or have to go to court, and possibly still pay the fine.

    • Marty Bogrow

      robin.. that is how it is (a doctors written prescription) and that in itself ,,it has to have certain criteria…i.e. must have a psychiatric diagnoses, must be under the care of a psychiatrist…etc..

    • Robyn M Blauberg

      Well, in the first paragraph, I was mostly referring to the airline staff being discouraged from asking for documented proof that the doctor prescribed the animal. Not only that, but there should be some identification of which animal was prescribed. Somehow I don’t think that a doctor in his or her right mind would prescribe 3 shrieking Pomeranians as ESA’s, knowing that the purpose of the prescription was for landlords and airlines. Doctors are worried about covering their @$$es.

    • DogPAC of SF

      I’ll give you the benefit of not being educated or well informed on the subject unlike the author who puts it in print without adequately researching the issue. The example Ms. Muth used is exceptional, if not, unusual. I wouldn’t bank on over-generalizing that all handlers do that. It would not serve any purpose other than to sensationalize and degrade the absolute necessity like carrying oxygen or wheelchair or requiring an extra seat for a large statured person, for example.

  • Nancy Newbold

    You better charge for those crying babies before dogs. I fly weekly and I vote charge for that endless noise from the baby and their parents – who are just as loud Shhhhing their baby. I have seen many dogs on airplanes and they behave much better than babies. I would sit next to a dog before I would ever want to be next to parents with baby/children!

    • Leah Carlton

      I always feel sorry for parents with babies on airplanes. Restaurants & movie theaters, however, is a whole different story.

    • Colleen Fitts

      I beg to differ just a little withyou. I travel often and always have traveled with my children. I even ventured home to America from germany with my 5 yr old and twin infants. Not one single person did or could complain about my children. Oh no, I am not that mother that says “My children are perfect” but I knpw how to travel with them. I do not like unbehaved children or parents that do not, will not nor cannot take cae of their child correctly. No screaming or whining allowed.
      I love dogs, my husband is a disabled veteran and he is needs his support animal when he has to travel alone. Like children there must be riules set for traveling.

    • TaTa Tami Holloway

      I have been on airplanes with my daughter when she was a baby and my support animal. I really have had no problem with either. However, the rude and accusatory looks from a small few passengers does not help the situation. When my daughter was 9 months old and I was on a flight sitting on the tarmac for over 3 hours, she was crying and cranky. I was given the worst look from a woman across the aisle. I leaned over and told the woman that I pinched my daughter just to piss her off! Others, were so kind and offered to take her off my hands for a bit.

    • Sparkpunk

      If this is about your own inconveniences (and, for the sake of the argument, mine as well), then you may be on to something…but that’s assuming that the airlines have the option of putting babies in the cargo hold. That’ll never go over well, unless you’re flying WestJet :)

      I agree with you that screaming babies and shushing parents are pretty annoying, but I always try to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure they’re stressed, too, knowing they’re inconveniencing passengers like you and me.

  • Allison B Toler-Cepeda

    I have high functioning autism. I have an ESA, who’s a cat. He’ll be flying with me to visit family next spring. He knows sit, high five, shake, down, he’s a good boy. I wouldn’t dare bring him with me if I thought he’d make anyone uncomfortable. I do have a letter from my CBT to take with me when I fly. He goes everywhere with me, even to restaurants. He just sits in the seat and watches me for cues. I think there should be required paperwork and evaluation of the animal. I wouldn’t hesitate to put my kitty through noise/distraction tests. He listens to me, and only me. It’s what we trained him to do! He’s almost a year old now.

    • Sara Saurus Rex

      I also have high functioning autism and depression. How do you get your cat registered? I would love to know.

    • DogPAC of SF

      And, many people with smaller animals leave them in their carriers for the flight.

  • Nancy Newbold

    lol, I hear you Leah, I guess after working 100 hours that week and flying home siting next to a crying baby – I have a short fuse sometimes.

  • Eric Toguchi

    What a croc of horseshit (pun intended)!

  • Marie Roy Connolly

    I have a registered emotional support dog, with Dr letter. I am always asked for the letter. All airlines I fly require documentation. Their rules also stipulate the dog must be well behaved and not infringe on other passengers. I believe this rule must be inforced.

  • Linda L. Anderson

    Actually, I travel with an emotional support dog, and a letter from my doctor has always been required by any airline I have flown on. And it has to be updated every six months.

  • Henry Maguire

    Ever read an article where the entire base argument is inherently flawed? This is a perfect example. The writer eloquently makes the point that people with emotional support dogs are “cheating” the airlines out of the $100 fee they attach to dogs. It’s a tight, solid argument. Until one asks: “why exactly do the airlines feel they can charge people $100 for flying with a pet? What special services, beyond tolerating it’s presence, are they providing?” The answer is none. The $100 fee is the cheat. The clever work-around is simply consumers defending themselves from being cheated.

  • Sussie Due

    According to the ACCA, the rules state that if an Emotional Support Animal or Service Dog shows any aggression they can be disallowed entry. So the fact that the Pom was allowed on after the aggression that it showed, it is the fault of the airlines for allowing that.

  • Cathy Serrano

    One small correction to the article. The Emotional Support Animal or “Companion Animal” is not considered a “pet” under the law. It is an assistive device just like a wheel chair for those to whom it has been prescribed. I work for an agency charged with enforcing these laws, and while I agree some people do take advantage of the law, I would say that is unfortunate because for those to whom this prescription has been properly made, the animal is truly much more than just a ‘pet’. We see them prescribed many times for returning Vets who are suffering from severe PTSD or serious depressive disorders. The animal must still be under control of its owner, and must have at least basic training such that it can interact and be around humans without difficulty. It is perfectly permissible for the airline to require the prescription for the animal on the prescribing therapist’s or physician’s letterhead. It is also permissible to require the animal be properly vaccinated and to have that documentation available at check-in.

    • DogPAC of SF

      Yes, agreed. Great point. That is key. As an example, consider an assistance dog for physical/mobility disability like a living cane. But, there is no analogy for a seizure alert (small) or response (large) animals, usually, dogs.

    • Cathy Serrano

      Yes, and we are seeing more and more prescriptions for assistance/service animals who alert for seizure disorders. In our organization, we try to get the word out to our local commmunity that we are here as a resource to help organizations work through some of these questions and concerns. We want them to call us if they have concerns or issues, before they act and perhaps discriminate against an individual who has need of an assistive or service animal. We are taking a very proactive approach and trying to educate, train and provide seminars and workshops about the law and the protections afforded for these assistance/service animals, and why they are very needed by many of our disabled citizens.

    • Morgan Mary Hansen

      She was saying that people are taking advantage of the title, when they don’t need emotional support animals, they just want to take their pet on the plane with them. It’s an increasing issue, you should look into it. There are so many websites that will grant you certification for your pet to be an emotional support animal with just a few clicks.

  • DogPAC of SF

    Folks, the author needs to check herself before both offering an uninformed opinion and making an over-generalization. While the one example she gives is an exception, there are at least 100 other verifiable and legitimate service animal teams. Also, she should know that there are three distinct laws that outline civil rights for people with disabilities and their service animals.

    First off, there is no requirement for any training for any service animal other than a guide dog for the blind. Read the ADA.
    Second, with regards to allergies, it is somewhat an requirement that the animal be healthy, bathed and free from parasites. But, let’s get real here; What about those people with disabilities that have respiratory conditions or allergies to fragrancies? Are people then prohibited from boarding? Uh, no. So, then a person with a disability is compromised from the start. Who needs to take a different flight then? People with dander allergies aren’t the ONLY people with allergies or respiratory conditions.
    Third, Ms. Muth appears to sound like a twenty-something diva who can afford to jetset around the world on a whim no more than having to struggle with a single ailment. Maybe a sign of unencumbered privilege of one who avoids engaging with people with disabilities?

    Maybe it’s time for Ms. Muth to get grounded to reality. Try on multiple sclerosis for a few years or mesothelioma for a few hours.

    For her and your reference, here are the three laws that apply.

    ADA of 1990: Revised in 2010 by US Dept of Justice, states that all services animals are dogs with the exception of miniature horses.

    Federal Housing Act: “The new ADA regulation does not change this FHAct/Section 504 analysis, and specifically notes, “[u]nder the FHAct, an individual with a disability may have the right to have an animal other than a dog in his or her home if the animal qualifies as a ‘reasonable accommodation’ that is necessary to afford the individual equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, assuming that the animal does not pose a direct threat.”.

    Air Access Carrier Act (AACA): Under § 382.55 Miscellaneous provisions. ” (a) Carriers shall permit dogs and other service animals used by persons with a disability to accompany the persons on a flight.”

  • DogPAC of SF

    From the archived comments below, ” Why should my emotional disability trump what some could consider your physical disability (I.e, a severe allergic reaction to pet dander)? That doesn’t seem fair.”

    This is just blatant ignorance that is on its way towards blatant discrimination.
    The ADA was created and introduced by President Bush I in 1990 to address inequalities of ALL PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES with no distinctions on severity and description with regards to leveling the playing field.

    I am very surprised the editors of this website allowed this level of biasedness to pass through their filters. It is bordering on journalistic ethics violations.

  • William Kamp III

    Maybe if Airlines didn’t impose “restrictions” on how many pets can travel, especially during holiday season, or if they didn’t charge ridiculous fees for animals that are under 12 lbs and are flying in a closed case like a piece of carry on luggage anyway, then people wouldn’t try to “skirt” the rules that are ridiculous as those attempts to circumvent them.

    • Robert Revet

      Exactly that seems to be the attitude of quite a number of people with so called “emotional support animals”: they dont like the rule and try to get around it. It’s getting high timne the specifies the rule in order to stop the current misuse of this policy. At least half the so called “emotional support animals” on flights are nothing but pets.

    • Robert Revet

      Exactly that seems to be the attitude of quite a number of people with so called “emotional support animals”: they dont like the rule and try to get around it. It’s getting high timne the specifies the rule in order to stop the current misuse of this policy. At least half the so called “emotional support animals” on flights are nothing but pets.

  • Kristina Eloise

    I feel silly for getting a letter for my “Emotional Support Animal” but I have to fly to Mexico every 6 weeks for work. I was tired of paying an extra $250 per ticket to bring my dog AND lose a carry on bag. Meanwhile, I would see people with screaming babies on their laps, morbidly obese patrons who take up part of my seat, etc. I wouldn’t have gone to the extreme of getting paperwork for my Emotional Support Animal if the airlines gave a damn about customer service and didn’t charge me an extra $250 to bring on a 8 pound dog.

  • L Robin Budd

    I agree with DogPAC of SF. Also I feel bad that the actions of selfish idiots, that if they can afford to fly should be able to pay the measly 100 instead of bringing bad reputation to a perfectly valid, legitimate need for emotional support animals. She herself says the airline does not even enforce what should be their own rules of CHECKING DOCUMENTATION, therefore bringing alot of these problems on themselves. What’s wrong Reannon, you would rather kowtow to the PC brigade, than to protect the genuine people in need? Shameful. there are many things that can be done to aliviate this situation, but sitting judgement on genuinely in need people, and writing an article adding to THEIR already difficult issues, because your employer, you and your peers are too thick to sort some easily remedied problems. Shame on you! An american living now in a more empathetic country of the UK.

  • Phil Laboon

    Pfffftttttt, I have been paying to take my two poms on planes for years and I’m finally so disgusted by how the airline treats them I’m going to get a letter for ESA certification. You will let a new born scream in my face for a 6 hour a flight for free but I have to pay $150 to keep a well trained dog under a seat the entire time… For many of us dogs are as close to us as kids and I don’t think the airlines have the right to say otherwise ESPECIALLY when my tax dollars go to bail them out when they constantly mismanage their business.

    As for the other passengers that don’t like it? Well there are MANY things I don’t like (obese people that obviously can’t fit in their seat and crush me, people that haven’t showered in days, etc) yet the airline is doing nothing on that front. Dogs have travelled with there masters for thousands of years and it isn’t going to stop anytime soon. Everyone should get an ESA certificate and stop letting these airlines use their little amount of control to go on power trips telling us what we can and cant do.

    • Alexander Lee

      The funny thing is they justify it with “allergies”. Right, its because of allergies. They care so much…BUT if you give them 100 bucks that somehow changes everything. I paid one time and they didn’t even check my animal in. So now I just put my parrot travel cage in a canvas shopping bag and no one’s the wiser. Why pay for what takes up less room than most ppls free carry-on!

    • Dana Larson

      If you have any friends that are trainers/know trainers, you could probably get a spare service dog vest. I know a guy who has done it a couple of times, because, lord knows, the airlines WILL kill your dog.

    • Martina Reisler

      what is a ESA cettificate?

    • Phil Laboon

      Emotional support animal. Means. You can have your dog on the plane with you instead of in the cargo hold where they sometimes freeze to death.

    • June Gilmore Smith

      emotional support animal

  • Chrisa Hickey

    Three snarling pomeranians wouldn’t qualify under any state or federal law as emotional support animals. A major requirement is that they DON’T do that.

    But this author doesn’t seem to realize – or care – that properly trained and behaved emotional support animals do wonders to help our veterans with PTSD and persons that would otherwise be house-bound with Major Depression or Anxiety.

    So get off your high horse, and realize that one bitty abusing the system does not an example make. Change your attitude. Get a little education. And hold those abusing the law to account.

  • Morgan Mary Hansen

    I believe this article is more focused toward the people who take advantage of the system, not those who have their emotional support animals for legitimate reasons, with legitimate certification. I have been researching this topic for a school paper for a while now, and have found several websites were I could get my dog certified with a snap of the fingers. Sure, some of her statements were a little harsh and lacked thought, but the point is there all the same. All of these people with unruly pets have been taking advantage of laws that were put in place to help people, and are leaving a very bad impression for other emotional support animals. Also, I have found many more articles about the people who have untrained, untamed pets parading around with the label of “emotional support” so maybe it is more common to find someone who has their animal for a bs reason than one that has a real reason for it. I thought all of you with emotional support animals would be more angry about the fact that these people have given this lady such a bad experience, not about her opinion.

  • Chris Spring

    I had never heard of Emotional support Dogs until I complained to Air New Zealand. It has taken me two weeks to recover from sharing a flight with two of these dogs for 10 hours. If I had been warned in advance I could have taken medication but once on the flight even moving away would have made no difference. Beware other allergy sufferers you need to take medication if you are flying because the airlines have no interest in your conditions only in not being suerd for breaching US Dept of Transportation rule 382 which permits emotional support animals to travel on airlines regardless of size, type or real requirement.

    • Robert Revet

      The airlines have great interest in not troubling people with allergies. Have you ever noticed that eg peanuts have disappeared from airplanes? But they have no possibility to avoid having to boardd these animals. The rule is simply much too liberal.

  • Dave Sumner

    She is worried about one dog that reportedly peed a little one time? I have traveled frequently for two decades and I cannot tell you the number of times that I have been trapped on the tarmac or in a circle pattern waiting to land where they would not let me get up to go to the restroom! I have been forced to sit in misery for hours while they would not let anyone get up or get off the plane. I can’t fault a dog or anyone for wanting to pee on a plane. Once they circled for an hour after serving drinks and they told us not to get up. The moment the plane touched down I was crying and cramping and me and another guy jumped up and ran for the restroom. The flight attendant screamed at us to sit down and I told her it was truly a critical emergency. She said if we didn’t sit down they would stop the plane on the runway and we would be liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. She implied we might be shot by air marshals for trying to get to the restroom. I asked her what the heck I was supposed to do because I couldn’t hold it anymore and she just shrugged and asked me if I wanted to pay a hundred grand fine. I am glad the dog peed in the floor and wish the rest of us had that option. The airlines treat everyone like trash and they will kill your dog if they have the chance. Just do a search and you will find plenty of cases.

  • synmore

    Your amateurish turns of phrase spell young or underdeveloped. The Old MacDonald’s dreck is tired before it’s out of the gate. Worst of all is your snottiness toward people and their animals. The law is lax, but it’s an attempt to do the right thing. The shelters are filled with animals jettisoned due to pet averse landlords and a world of other pet-unfriendly restrictions. I wish more people would take advantage of the ESA certification to gain housing for their family pets. As far as flying, eh, I suppose this will work itself out. Seems to me the animal should be at least suggested to be toilet trained and well behaved. But you, Reannon Muth, need to take a lesson in compassion.

  • Liz G.

    I believe the bigger issue here is how confusing, unfriendly, and unsafe per air travel can be in this country. As a self-proclaimed “travel addict,” I’m sure you’re familiar with the rush of excitement that accompanies a trip for work or leisure. For many pet owners, that travel can become a nightmare when bringing a pet along (or getting rid of them altogether) is the only option. The red tape, hidden fees and stress attempting to transport a dog via air culminate to AN ABSOLUTE NIGHTMARE. In addition, this trip can very well put the life of your beloved pet at risk.

    For me it’s not about wanting to fly WITH the animal, so much as it is the need to transport my pet to my final destination. You’re probably thinking, “if you knew you were going to have to travel so much for work, then you really shouldn’t have gotten a dog.” However, “if” is the operative word here. We sometimes find ourselves in situations that we did not plan for. If the airlines made pet travel safer, easier and more convenient, I guarantee that you would see a reduction in the number of “emotional service animals” that come through the gates.

  • Sarah

    Then lower the amount! It’s absolutely absurd that my 3.6 pound Yorkie travels 125 one way and is shoved under the seat in front of me! Damn right I’ll pass him through as a service dog!

  • Jack

    Your writing is despicable and filthy. Your own logic undercuts your arguments. So, if the cost of animal training is prohibitively high for the emotionally disabled to train their non-human animals in a way which meets your (unprofessionally-informed) standards, should they be functionally prevented from air travel? Try to have some compassion.

  • Lauren

    I have panic attacks and anxiety and no therapist or drug can fix
    That. But flying with my animal gives me security. I can afford the price of my dog
    To fly and it’s pretty low of you to even take the time to write this when you have no idea
    Why people Do what they do. Perhaps you should Express your opinions and feelings to a therapist.

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