I was sitting the in the Airspace Lounge at JFK recently when all of a sudden a dog ran up to me and started barking. Oh…another emotional support pet.
Let’s start with this. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are protected by law. No one disputes that.
We can thank the Air Carrier Access Act. If you want to review the law, you can do so here.
The Act defines a service animal as any animal–
that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a qualified person with a disability; or any animal shown by documentation to be necessary for the emotional well-being of a passenger.
How should these animals behave?
All service animals must be trained to behave appropriately in a public setting.
Must U.S. carriers transport any animals deemed “emotional service” animals?
U.S. carriers are required to transport all service animals except certain unusual animals (e.g., snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders). Foreign air carriers are not required to transport service animals other than dogs.
What documentation is required for the animal?
Carriers may require documentation that the animal will not need to relieve itself during the expected duration of the flight or that the animal can relieve itself in a way that does not create a health or sanitation issue on the flight.
What documentation is required for the traveler?
If a passenger seeks to travel with an animal that is used as an emotional support or psychiatric service animal, you are not required to accept the animal for transportation in the cabin unless the passenger provides you current documentation (i.e., no older than one year from the date of the passenger’s scheduled initial flight) on the letterhead of a licensed mental health professional (e.g., psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed clinical social worker, including a medical doctor specifically treating the passenger’s mental or emotional disability) stating the following:
(1) The passenger has a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM IV);
(2) The passenger needs the emotional support or psychiatric service animal as an accommodation for air travel and/or for activity at the passenger’s destination;
(3) The individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional, and the passenger is under his or her professional care; and
(4) The date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.
Do you see the problem?
Google “emotional support letter” and you’ll find page after page of offers to provide you a doctor-signed letter. Emotional support pets may be legitimate in some cases, but increasingly serve as a scam to avoid pet fees.
And I’m sick of it. I’m sick of dogs coming up and sniffing me in airport lounges and pretentious prima donnas who are too cheap to pay the pet fee.
My Solution: Travel Once with a Pet, Always With a Pet!
My solution is not perfect, but I think it would put a stop to many of the people who abuse the system.
If you travel with an emotional support animal, airlines should mark that clearly in your profile. Thus, every time you travel, you should be expected to have your emotional support animal with you. If you can make it on most flights fine, why not all flights?
Passengers who only need emotional support on rare occasions–like on vacation–should be asked for an explanation.
Perhaps that is more trouble than it is worth, but if I get another dog that comes running up to me…
(thanks to Flyertalk member surram for sharing these with me)
This issue bothers me partly because I don’t like dogs. I’ll admit that. But I don’t think I’m just imagining abuse. On the contrary, I think airlines should be more strict about what it means to “behave appropriately in a public setting” and start removing dogs that cannot sit quietly for long periods of time.