Fraud and Abuse of Extra Legroom Aboard an Airplane Possibly Ahead?

“T he Department has also received a petition for rulemaking to modify the existing seating accommodations requirement for passengers who need extra legroom.”

That statement was amongst the formal request for input — whose deadline has supposedly passed, although the capability to leave a comment still seems to be intact — from the Department of Transportation of the United States pertaining to exploring the feasibility of conducting a “negotiated rule making.” This includes the hiring of a convener to speak with parties who are interested — in addressing the following issues:

  • Ensure that the same in-flight entertainment available to all passengers is accessible to passengers with disabilities
  • Provide individuals dependent on in-flight medical oxygen greater access to air travel consistent with federal safety and security requirements
  • Address the feasibility of accessible lavatories aboard new aircraft with a single aisle
  • Address whether premium economy is a different class of service from standard economy as airlines are required to provide seating accommodations to passengers with disabilities within the same class of service
  • Require airlines to report annually to the Department of Transportation the number of requests for disability assistance they receive and the time period within which wheelchair assistance is provided to passengers with disabilities
  • Determine the appropriate definition of a service animal
  • Establish safeguards to reduce the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets will be able to falsely claim that their pets are service animals

Possible Fraud and Abuse of Extra Legroom Aboard an Airplane Ahead?

Widespread alleged fraud and abuse of people traveling with their pets and passing them off as emotional support animals in order to not pay any fees and have the pets by their sides in the cabin aboard an airplane already exists…

…but if there is a modification of the existing seating accommodations requirement for passengers who need extra legroom aboard an airplane, could that also potentially be ripe for fraud and abuse?

The following paragraph was extracted from the official request for input from the Department of Transportation of the United States:

Extra legroom is a standard feature of premium economy, with some carriers providing premium economy passengers amenities in addition to the standard economy class services. Various disability organizations have reported to the Department that their members are unable to obtain bulkhead seating while traveling with a service animal as the bulkhead seats are now primarily located in what has been designated by airlines as the premium economy section.

Reasons — and Excuses — for Extra Legroom

I could hear the reasons now for why people would believe that they would need a seat with extra legroom:

“I could be at a high risk of contracting deep vein thrombosis if I am not assigned a seat with extra legroom” — although I would think that claim would require a bonafide note from a legitimate doctor.

“I suffer from a severe case of claustrophobia.” I am sure those extra few inches of legroom would significantly alleviate that issue.

“I am required to have a specific amount of cubic feet of air around me, which is possible in a seat with extra legroom — but not in a typical seat in the economy class cabin.” O-kaaaayyyy…

“I qualify for emotional support legroom. Here is my official certificate from the Emotional Support Legroom Association of the United States; and I am wearing my official pin on my official shirt.” Yes — for a one-time fee of $450.00, you too can be guaranteed extra legroom aboard airplanes without paying a fee whenever you travel.

Summary

There are legitimate reasons why certain passengers require additional legroom when they travel aboard an airplane; and I would certainly support that; but my hope is that if lawmakers enact a ruling where certain passengers are permitted to be assigned to a seat which includes extra legroom, they do so without leaving glaring loopholes which allow unscrupulous people to take advantage of a benefit to which they are not legitimately entitled — such as passing off ordinary pets as emotional support animals.

People who have legitimate disabilities should absolutely be given special consideration with laws and rules which help them travel easier — but those laws and rules need to be written in a manner where not only can unqualified people not be able to take unfair advantage of them; but that there is also a penalty severe enough to prevent them from doing so…

…as demonstrated by this example in the state of Florida where a law was enacted in which owners of dogs may face a penalty — which could include time in jail — for passing off their pet as a service dog on or after Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

Many of us want extra legroom with our seat aboard an airplane; but there are simply too few seats which offer that — and airlines have been squeezing in seats to that finite space inside of airplanes. We must be as fair as possible as to who gets to sit in them during a flight — whether the qualifications include level of elite status earned; the amount of money paid for the privilege; or a legitimate disability.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

3 thoughts on “Fraud and Abuse of Extra Legroom Aboard an Airplane Possibly Ahead?”

  1. laptoptravel says:

    I agree the airlines have created their own monsters that people are now trying to take advantage of. Look at the carry-on luggage situation; created by airlines charging for luggage which should accompany a paying passenger for free. “Easter” the flying turkey, an emotional support animal, pot-bellied pigs, guinea pigs, large dogs, lap dogs, etc…the list goes on.

    I recently wrote an article when we discovered that Delta Air Lines was altering their seatmaps (http://bit.ly/1Otk1YA) underneath the Comfort+ Fare changes that go into effect for travel on and beyond May 16th. Theuy realized that they would be in violation of the Air Carrier Access Act if they did not make provisions (even in their premium, separate fare class but still same cabin Comfort+) for persons flying with disabilities to have access to certain seats.

    The result will be people utilizing fraudulent means to get free access to these new “fare class” seats.

    The airlines are their own worst enemies, and yet Congress should address the valid issues with the current fraudulent activities of those trying to game the system.

  2. Charles says:

    I agree, my story is not identical but related.
    I was travelling JetBlue with my child. We started our snacks from home immediately after boarding. As we were taxiing an anouncement was made that due to a just revealed allergy the flight would be peanut free. I pointe dout that my son was already consuming peanuts. The plane was shunted to the side while they discussed and finalized the plan.
    My 12 year old son travelled in underwear, his clothing was bagged and he was wiped down with sterile wipes.
    After landing I suggested that the allergic party wait behind till we deplane OR deplane by rear doors ( often done at FLL). The allergic party walked right by us with not a concern in the world.
    If anything, we should have asserted rights for my special child to be treated with respect and not had his candy forcefully removed and denied him.
    The issue is that people with a shred of a legitimate claim magnify and call the shots and the airlines are fearful of calling their bluff.

  3. VG says:

    The “service animal” abuse has gotten seriously out of hand! One solution is to require not only a doctor’s certification (easy to get) but also require that the service animal be a trained and certified service animal. Minimum requirements would be set high enough to ensure that the cash cost and time that the animal spend with a certified trainer would deter most people trying to take their plain old pet would not chose this route.

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