As a travel blogger I aim to be diplomatic when possible. I try to keep an open mind when it comes to situations that may seem obvious but underlying factors may be at work for which I am unaware. This post is anything but diplomatic. I am tired of the abuse of systems that are in place to protect those that are most vulnerable amongst us. Instead those regulations are skirted by those who want to board first or don’t want to leave their dogs at home even for a weekend trip. I’m not being polite any more, I am being blunt.
Let’s start with a bit of the miraculous. It’s rare that someone with a serious disability, especially in the case of use of their legs, is able to overcome their challenge during their lifetime. Perhaps with years of physical therapy, counseling, doctors, procedures, prosthetics – just maybe can those that are disabled begin walking again.
Somehow, oddly, miracles seem to happen on most domestic flights I take. Just yesterday a woman was shuttled down the jetway (at least 100 feet) during my flight, then maneuvered over a small ramp to the CRJ700, taken to her seat where she was able to transfer herself from wheelchair to bulkhead. Then, over the course of an hour and fifteen minute flight to Chicago, a miracle happened and she was able to walk off the airplane unassisted. The conversation I witnessed went like this:
FA – “Please be patient and wait until the other passengers are off first, sometimes [ground gate staff to assist the disabled] take a little while to get here to help.”
Passenger – “You know, I think I can make it.”
FA – “Ok, whatever you feel comfortable with doing.”
The Truth: I know, and the passenger knows that they are able to walk on and off the plane just fine. I see this on almost every flight. A passenger utilizes gate assistance to board with ease and then when they no longer need the advantage they are seeking, they simply will not wait for the help they so desperately needed before.
I’m not talking about the truly disabled. They should take all the time they need, and neither I, nor anyone else needs to get on a plane so fast that they would suggest anything other than the truly disabled take their time and are able to board and be seated with dignity and privacy. And I am also not talking about the elderly like my own grandparents who genuinely would be out of breath and unable to walk through a large airport, through security, etc. Those that have mobility issues have it both getting onto the plane and off of the plane. They need the help both when it is convenient and when it isn’t – because they genuinely need help. This post isn’t about them either.
If an airport-provided wheelchair is the only aid they use, it’s pretty unlikely that they are disabled when they are outside of the airport too. I can give only anecdotal experiences, and I am sure that there will be some readers who insist that there is a valid reason for this and my assumptions are inaccurate and heartless. They may be right. But they can’t be right about all of them and I doubt that I am the only one to have noticed this.
On my last trip to Rome I was awaiting a flight to Chicago with my wife and her cousin. A spritely older couple came by and sat next to us. They were moving things around and asked us to watch over their things while one of them ran to Duty Free before the flight. They disappeared after they finished their purchase and we soon joined the line for priority boarding (though not business class on this flight). Wheeling by us was the same couple who felt good enough to make it through Rome’s Fiumicino airport by themselves, do a little shopping, who knows what else – but the last 100 feet down the jet bridge was just too much for them. The same distance was no problem upon landing and learning they would have to wait for the plane to clear before the same service could be provided upon landing.
You can call me a cynic, but the honest amongst you will agree – some people are repulsively abusing a system put in place that should help those that truly need it and not provide an easy way through TSA and onto the plane a little early.
That’s Not A Service Animal
There seems to be some confusion about the difference between Emotional Support Animals and Service Animals (usually dogs). Service Animals go through hundreds of hours of training, costs thousands of dollars, have a clear uniform (a dog vest marking that they are Service dogs). Service dogs should be allowed on the aircraft, in public spaces, despite their usually larger size. Soldiers returning from war with PTSD have a particular need and should be allowed anything benefit that may help them overcome or manage their struggle.
But then there’s the vanity pet addict. This referee to the one who violates the system to avoid paying pet charges, putting their pet in the hold, or simply because they believe their pet doesn’t apply to the rules and limitations airlines and the FAA have put in place.
Emotional Support Animals are permitted and are difficult to disallow than Service Dogs. While Service Dogs must have marking, significant training and the user must demonstrate a specific and substantial need, Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) do not adhere to the same strict guidelines. In fact getting paperwork and processing for your Emotional Support Animal couldn’t be faster, easier… or cheaper.
For one low, easy payment of $79 you too can skirt the airline system at will. Don’t want to pay for your animal to join you in the cabin? No problem, establish your animal as an ESA and you can bring just about anything on board – even a pony!
I’m not suggesting that all ESAs are invalid – I am sure that they are not. But it’s gotten way out of hand. Whether it’s because passengers don’t like taking their chances with the baggage personnel caring for their animals in the hold or pilot’s remembering to turn on the heating – invalid ESAs are not the answer. Whatever happened to leaving your dog with the neighbors or a friend for a few days? What about doggy daycare?
As a rule, if you don’t medically need your animal to survive and make your way through the world it’s no different to me than parking in a handicap stall because you have to just run in for one thing. It’s a matter of convenience, of cost and not of need. If a real psychologist wouldn’t put their medical license on the line to defend your need to have an ESA, then it’s not a need, it’s a want.
Have you seen abuses of these systems with your own two eyes? Am I just too cynical to see the truth that all of these ESAs and gate assistance are needed?