Pets are comforting companions for kids and adults alike. There is no denying that pets keep us healthy and relieve stress. They play with us and show us unconditional love.
Lately keeping a pet as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)– an untrained companion of any species that provides solace to someone with a disability, such as anxiety or depression is becoming , should I say “fashionable’ for lack of a better word.
And an increasing number of pet owners have of late been taking their pets into public spaces including travelling in airplanes , more so in the cabins -rather than the holds—simply by claiming that the creatures are their licensed companion animals and are necessary to their mental well-being.
The list of weird and wondrous beasts that have accompanied their owners on scheduled flights in the US includes a turkey, a kangaroo, and a duck by the name of Mr. Stinkerbutt and a miniature Appaloosa horse.
There was also a peacock, who was turned away by United for not meeting its guidelines of weight and size, despite of the owner who offered to buy a separate ticket, and Hobey the pot-bellied pig took a pre-takeoff dump in the aisle of an American Airlines flight and both pig and owner were ushered off – proof that peacocks and pigs really can’t fly.
Luckily the good citizens of the US of A have the law on their side. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
As noble as it is intended, the purpose of the law is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, including equal rights of employment, housing and also the same rights to transportation aboard public entities such as airlines.
If a disabled person requires the assistance of a service animal the airline must accommodate the service animal, but there’s more to it than that. The key difference between a service dog and an emotional support dog is whether the animal has been trained to perform a specific task or job directly related to the person’s disability. For example, service dogs are trained to alert a hearing-impaired person to an alarm or to guide a visually impaired person around an obstacle.
So when pet owners insist on taking along an animal for want of emotional support all they need is an exemption- a letter from a certified healthcare provider, stating that the animal provides emotional support that eases one or more of the symptoms or effects of the disability, to substantiate their claims and Bingo! – They are legally entitled to take their friend along when they fly.
The United States – Air Carrier Access Act entitles passengers to fly with their E.S.A. at no extra charge, although airlines typically require the animal to stay on the lap or under the seat.
But Airlines are now fighting back. Between 2016 and 2018 the number of passengers taking their ESA on a flight in the US has increased from 561,000 to more than 1 million. And with that, the number of incidents involving ESAs pooing, peeing or biting other passengers and cabin crew have also increased.
Many airlines have changed their policies when it comes to flying with an emotional support animal. Which is why most carriers are now either banning ESAs from flights over eight hours or putting in stipulated conditions for flying with ESA’s such as-
- Banning specific animals from the cabin, including amphibians, ferrets, goats, hedgehogs, insects, reptiles, rodents, snakes, spiders, sugar gliders and any animal with tusks, horns or hooves.
- The animals must be able to fit at the passengers’ feet, under the seat and are small enough to “fit fully on the passengers’ lap without touching any part of the seat or adjacent customers.
- The animal cannot be seated in an exit row, block aisles, occupy seats or eat from tray tables.
- The animals will have to remain leashed throughout the flight.
Airline employees are now able to exclude animals they consider to be a safety risk. While airlines might have thousands of trained service animals flying in a month, they may need to accommodate much more as untrained support animals in the already constrained cabin. Untrained animals have not only attacked trained service dogs, but also bitten flight attendants and other passengers. Not to mention, pets could also be the reason for spreading certain allergens.
Whether one truly and genuinely needs a support animal travelling with them needs to have strict and proper guidelines/rules to ensure access to service animal assistance for people with disabilities , while maintaining the safety, health and security of all other passengers and crew onboard planes.