Is it fair that some people get airline passage for their pets, whether dogs, cats, ducks or pigs, by claiming they are "emotional support animals", thus forcing fellow passengers to endure their untrained behavior and even worse?
Delta Airlines is to be commended for recently announced guidelines to handle this growing problem, a move endorsed by the Association of Flight Attendants - CWA.
As reported by The Washington Post, while that the Americans With Disabilities Act defines service animals as trained dogs or miniature horses, airlines are bound by the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, which allows free travel for “any animal” that is trained to assist a person with a disability or that provides emotional support -- even a fear of flying.
The Post pointed out that airlines can require passengers with creatures in the second category to produce a letter from a physician or mental-health professional, but the documents are easily forged or obtained from websites that provide cursory, questionnaire-style “exams.”
The article describes incidents where passengers have been mauled in their seats by "emotional support animals", how passengers with allergies to pet dander have suffered illness, where dogs have blocked beverage carts, cats have urinated on seats, and even ducks have wandered the aisles.
“It’s created a real issue on our planes,” said Taylor Garland, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, who said one union member was asked to administer oxygen to a dog that, according to its owner, was having anxiety midflight. Others have been bitten.
“The aircraft cabin is a unique space, and … we need to recognize the limitations that exist when you’re flying in the air in a metal tube,” Garland said.
The Post article points out that the Department of Transportation's (DOT) reports on disability-related complaints show that those involving service animals nearly quadrupled between 2012 and 2016, when more than 2,300 were filed. Following publicity and passenger complaints, 19 states now have laws that criminalize passing off pets as service animals, and DOT is considering federal regulations.
While fake service animals cause problems for passengers and crew, the practice is also harmful to those who must use actual, certified service animals to help with their disabilities, and any new regulations likely will impose new requirements on them, as well. Also, there is a distinction between "service animals" and "emotional support animals," which complicates the debate.
Delta’s new requirements, which take effect March 1, retain those distinctions. Passengers with trained service animals will need to submit a veterinary health form at least 48 hours before travel to the airline’s new “Service Animal Support Desk.”
Customers with emotional-support animals or psychiatric service animals also must do this, but they also must provide a letter from a doctor or mental-health professional and a signed document saying the animal is trained to behave in public. (Delta also recently expanded its list of prohibited critters, including “farm poultry,” hedgehogs and anything with tusks.)
Check out the video above. Pigs really do fly.