Support Animals Versus Allergies: Here We Go Again

“H ad an uncomfortable situation”, posted FlyerTalk member inpd. “Sitting in a bulk head on a DC-80. The person next to me has a largish dog on a leash and sits next to me and puts his dog under our legs.

“This wasn’t a guide dog, it was just a regular dog and the guy wasn’t blind or old (in his 20’s).

“Who do you write to, to complain about this. I had a dog hair allergy and if this is going to be common practice then adios AA. Of course no one wanted to swap seats with me … The dog was scary looking”…

…and the debate continues. Does a person with allergies to the fur of animals trump the passenger with an animal classified as a service dog or an emotional support animal?

As this latest situation occurred aboard an airplane operated by American Airlines, here is the official policy in general pertaining to service animals:

American Airlines and American Eagle® accept service animals used by persons with disabilities at no charge. An animal may accompany a customer with a disability in the aircraft cabin, provided the animal can be accommodated without obstructing an aisle or other area used for emergency evacuations.

If a service animal is disruptive or too large to fit under the seat or at the passenger’s feet without encroaching on another passenger’s space or protruding into the aisle, it will need to travel in a kennel (provided by the passenger) in the cargo hold. The kennel must meet IATA kennel and size requirements for the animal. Temperature restrictions apply to ensure the safety of the animal.

There is no charge for service animals used by customers with disabilities. However, credible verbal assurance that the animal is providing a service to assist with a disability will suffice should an inquiry be made.

View a list of animal relief areas at select airports. If your airport is not listed, please ask for directions or assistance at our ticket counter.

For information regarding working dogs, please see our Traveling With Pets page page.

Quarantine restrictions may apply. Your reservations agent or travel agent will be happy to check destination regulations for you.

“Emotional Support Animals? Documentation is required”, summarized FlyerTalk member FWAAA. “Service Animal? No documentation is required.”

If the dog was indeed under the legs of inpd, then was the dog not encroaching the passenger space of inpd? If so, then the dog should have been transported in a kennel in the cargo hold, according to the aforementioned official policy of American Airlines…

…but what if the passenger in question was following all of the guidelines of the official policy correctly with his dog? Do the allergies of inpd come into consideration here?

No, according to this article I posted on May 9 earlier this year:

  • Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility — such as an airport lounge or a hotel lobby, for example — they both should be accommodated by assigning them to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility, if it is at all possible.
  • Establishments which sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas — even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
  • People with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons; treated less favorably than other patrons; or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. Additionally, if a business requires a deposit or fee to be paid by patrons with pets, it must waive the charge for service animals.
  • If a business — such as a hotel property — normally charges guests for damage that they cause, a customer with a disability may also be charged for damage caused by himself or his service animal.
  • Staff are not required to provide care or food for a service animal.

 

While not every bullet point found in the list above may apply to airlines, they do apply to such travel establishments as airport lounges and hotel properties…

…so with policies such as stated above — short of avoiding travel — what are the possible solutions to traveling with allergies?

This list of tips offered by WebMD should give you some relief if you have allergies :

  • Pack all the medications you will need in your purse or carry-on bag — something you will have at hand in the car, in your train seat, or on the flight. Bring a day’s worth of extra doses just in case you’re delayed.
  • Keep medications in their original packaging to avoid running afoul of the Transportation Security Administration if you’re flying. You should be allowed to check all types of medication through the security checkpoint. If it’s in three-ounce or smaller quantities, you can put it in a clear quart-sized bag as you do with shampoo and perfume — but give the meds their own bag, separate from cosmetics and other liquids. If your liquid or gel medications are in larger quantities, put them in a separate bag and declare them separately to the screener.
  • If you use dust-proof, zippered pillow covers at home, pack one for the pillow at your destination. It takes up little to no space in your suitcase. If you’re really expecting to encounter some dust mite problems while away, you can even fold up and pack your mattress cover — but that will take up more space.
  • If you have food allergies, pack acceptable snacks in your carry-on bag so you won’t have to take a chance on airline food or the options available in train stations, rest stops and airports.
  • Check the pollen counts at your destination — you can do that here or at an Internet web site dedicated to weather, for example.
  • The air in planes is particularly dry, so be sure your carry-on includes saline nasal spray — and use it once an hour to keep nasal passages moist.
  • If you have mold allergies, ask for a sunny, dry room away from the pool.
  • Ask about the hotel’s pet policy. Hotels cannot bar service animals for the reasons listed here; but if you have dander allergies, you probably don’t want to be staying in a hotel that advertises itself as pet-friendly or offers cats to borrow for the night.
  • If you’ll be staying in a rental home, inquire about how thoroughly the location is cleaned between guests.

 

Unfortunately, there are not many easy solutions currently available — although the good news is that more and more companies in the travel industry are addressing the issue of customers with allergies.

Perhaps one potential solution is to crack down on what could be considered possible abuse of the designation of unqualified pets as service animals or emotional support animals in order to avoid paying extra charges or have their pets relegated into the cargo hold?

To complicate matters, there are distinct differences between service animals and animals used to provide their owners “emotional support.”

The official definition of a service animal — according to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice of the United States pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — is as follows:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

Additionally, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered — unless these devices interfere with the intended work of the service animal or the disability of the individual prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

Unfortunately, it appears that all that employees of an airline — whether aboard an airplane or in a lounge at an airport — could do is ask two questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

 

When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, the employee of an airline cannot without violating federal law:

  • Ask about the nature of the disability of the person
  • Require medical documentation
  • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog; or
  • Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task

 

An emotional support animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to an individual designated with a disability — such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks or anxiety as only a few of many examples. While only dogs — and, in a separate provision which need not be discussed here, miniature horses — can be officially designated as service animals, emotional support animals can also be cats and other animals as prescribed by a physician or other medical professional if the owner of the animal has a verifiable disability in accordance with federal law of the United States.

“I can confirm that few of these animals, in my experience, exhibit the demeanor of one with service training; however, ESAs are not required to have training. Their ‘mere presence’ can be the therapy, according to the powers that be”, Sarah Steegar — who is a flight attendant as well as the author of the Crewed Talk weblog at FlyerTalk — wrote in this article. “…if I’d ever had a situation where we literally ‘knew’ the ESA claim was bogus, the answer has to be no. We are well-trained to know that not all disabilities are visible. Between that very real fact and the situation that the bar for a ‘legitimate’ ESA is actually so low (it’s down to a prescription, basically), there is literally no way to know, short of passenger confession, that a particular ESA claim is fake.”

I will defer to Sarah Steegar as to the possible solution and her thoughts on this issue based on her experience: “I think the only way to rein in the problem is for airlines to tighten up ESA-acceptance. Some form of training (even if it just certifies appropriate public behavior) would be helpful, as would restricting the size or type of animals accepted. Airlines lose fees on ESA scammers, and passengers and crews are both annoyed, so I don’t really understand why they haven’t already done this – unless there’s some complication that I haven’t seen spelled out. So far, I’ve been told it’s simply “not high on the priority list.” Unless someone can demonstrate that airlines are losing revenue through the ESA claims or unless another passenger gets hurt by (and inevitably sues) a non-trained ESA animal, the problem will get little more action than eye rolls.”

In this particular case, it would seem to me that inpd should have not had to deal with the inconvenience and discomfort of having to deal with the dog — unless it was a legitimate service animal…

…and even then, what is the difference of having a large animal encroaching upon your personal space aboard an airplane as opposed to an obese person infringing upon your personal space?

I look forward to reading your comments below…

21 thoughts on “Support Animals Versus Allergies: Here We Go Again”

  1. PHYLLIS STEWART-RUFFIN says:

    I AM ALLERGIC TO ANIMALS TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY TRIGGER ASTHMA ATTACKS. IT SEEMS I NEED TO OBTAIN MEDICAL DOCUMENTATION TO TRAVEL ABOARD AIRLINES AND MOST RECENTLY AMTRAK. HOW IS THE ACCOMMODATION ISSUE ADDRESSED, IF ATALL, FOR CONFLICTING DISABILITIES. MY DISABILITY IS SEVER ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA TRIGGERED BY ANIMALS, TO INCLUDE CATS AND DOGS.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is a good question, PHYLLIS STEWART-RUFFIN.

      I am not sure; but I believe it is a matter of contacting the airline or Amtrak prior to travel — as well as alerting the members of the crew aboard the airplane and the train.

      Hopefully, a reader of The Gate who suffers from asthma and allergies can better address and answer your question than I can.

    2. Daisy K says:

      And why is my allergy (I also have an asthmatic reaction to dogs) less important than someone’s peanut allergy? Peanuts have been BANNED because the allergy can kill. But an animal allergy is laughed at.

  2. daphne says:

    I work in a public place. I am not allergic to most service dogs however this particular customer has a dog that I am extremely allergic to. I asked the customer if he could allow another worker to serve him. He got a bad attitude. Again he comes to my work and demands that I service him. I got another employee to service the customer. He complained I was rude for not providing service. this man is in his late 20’s he has no defects or disabilities (maybe mental or emotional but not physical). He was accompanied by his wife and small daughter. There was really no need for his dog to come to the establishment other than this person enforcing his rights to have a dog. When I told him I was allergic to his dog he said “bullshit” his wife asked that he not repeat it and he said “that’s bullshit” a second time.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      If pet owners expect to be treated with respect, so should the people they affect, daphne — especially people who are allergic to animals. Consideration should be exercised both ways.

      There is no excuse for rudeness and profanity; and there is no reason why we all cannot do what we can to coexist peacefully.

  3. Kam says:

    I have a major cat allergy. I was seated in the same row as someone with a cat. When I inquired with the flight attendant they moved the catime person. I offered to buy him a drink but the FA said she already took care of him. Turned out to be no big deal.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Compromise, compassion and cooperation usually renders what could potentially be a major issue into no big deal, Kam.

      I am glad what could have become an incident worked out in your favor — and kudos to you for offering to buy a drink for the fellow passenger.

  4. Caroline says:

    PTSD dogs are not emotional support dogs. They perform a service, and are Service animals. My German Shep does crowd control when I’m having an attach by gently pushing people away using her side. She also sits by me until I’m able to regain control. When she smells the chemicals change in my body, she will bark at me so I can find a quiet place. That is a service. Please know the difference.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      This is what I found at the official Internet web site of the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, Caroline:

      “Owning a dog can lift your mood or help you feel less stressed. Dogs can help people feel better by providing companionship. All dog owners, including those who have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can experience these benefits.

      “Clinically, there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms. Evidence-based therapies and medications for PTSD are supported by research. We encourage you to learn more about these treatments because it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from the few studies on dogs and PTSD that have been done.”

      The article is rather detailed:

      http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/treatment/cope/dogs_and_ptsd.asp

      I do not doubt that your dog performs a valuable service for you; and I am sad to learn that you suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder and wish you all of the best…

      …but I am not qualified, knowledgeable or experienced enough to definitively determine and publicly state that dogs such as yours do indeed qualify for service animal status; and until there is enough clinical research to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms, I cannot contradict the information which is currently available.

      That does not mean that you should not continue getting the word out about your experiences and champion the effort to include PTSD dogs under the official definition as service animals, Caroline.

      Thank you for sharing that information. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know…

      1. Elle says:

        I am really a bit confused as to your stating that PTSD service dogs are NOT under the official definition given that they are specifically listed AS service animals in the quote you posted from the DOJ brief on service animals:

        “Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications,

        —–calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, ——–

        or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.”

        But maybe you are no longer confused on the topic as it appears that this article is older, so perhaps you’ve been informed and/or read the DOJ brief that you quoted above. The VA doesn’t define what is or is not a disability or what is or is not a service animal. Just because they haven’t studied it doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate service dog, as evidenced by the DOJ specifically mentioning PTSD service dogs in their service animal brief.

        1. Brian Cohen says:

          A dog which is officially a legitimate service animal trained specifically for calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during an anxiety attack is different from an animal classified unofficially as an “emotional support animal”, Elle.

          The article clearly states the differences between a service dog and an “emotional support animal” — and one of those differences is what you quoted: “Service animals are working animals, not pets.”

          While there may be passengers who travel with “emotional support animals” for legitimate reasons, there are many passengers who simply use their family pets to “designate” them as “emotional support animals” just to save on paying for airfare for their pets — and that constitutes fraud, in my opinion.

          There is no confusion on my part.

    2. W says:

      That is terrific for you, but now your service dog has caused me harm by pushing me away by causing me to have severe hives and an asthma attack. Does this mean that I get to find a way to deal with my issue that causes someone else an issue that I can not care about at all?

  5. Sabra says:

    Stop getting into hypothetical research claims. According to the ADA, if the dog perform a specific task like isolating the handler from people, alerting the handler to an anxiety attack, and so forth, that is a service dog because the dog is performing a task to mitigate a psychiatric disability. If the dog performs a task to mitigate a disability whether that disability is is a cool or mental, that dog is a service dog. And emotional support dog is different because that dog is not trained to perform a task. That dog may keep you calm through companionship. And emotional support animal can be any animal where as a service animal can only be a dog or a miniature horse. If you have PTSD, you could have an emotional support animal or a service animal depending on the situation. If the dog just keeps you COM through companionship, it is any motional support dog, but if that dog mitigate your PTSD by alerting you to attacks, pushing people away from you, and bringing you to a quiet place when you can’t function well enough, It is a service dog. If any dog is trained to perform a task to mitigate a disability regardless of what that disability is, it is a service dog. It may be confusing, but you need to stop thinking about whether the disability is psychiatric or not. You need to think of it in terms of whether the dog is performing a task, or whether the dog has been prescribed to calm through companionship. It is true that the Americans with disabilities act does not require documentation because businesses would really take advantage and leave disabled service dog handlers waiting outside until employee could look at an ID. People love power, and businesses would love to exert power over disabled handlers in this way. However, the Americans with disabilities act does not apply on airplanes. The air carrier access act applies on airplanes, and an airline can request documentation under the air carrier access act. This is because it wouldn’t create a situation where a person with a disability is basically marginalized by having to show an ID everywhere they go. I think it is possible to accommodate both disabilities. If you have a dog allergy, it would be considered a disability, and if you are not being accommodated effectively, you have the same rights under the ADA, fair housing act, and air carrier access act. If you encounter service dog handlers this seem suspicious of you and your legitimate dog allergy, don’t be offended. A lot of people lie and say they have dog allergies because they think it will get them out of including a service dog in their business and so forth. Remember that for every one person who has legitimate dog allergies, there are 10 others who are lying about the issue just because they don’t want a person with a disability and their service dog in their establishment.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I simply reiterated the official definition of a service dog as cited by the federal government of the United States, Sabra.

      As for my adamant stance on the matter, my whole point with the series of articles which I wrote pertains to those who abuse the system just to get away with transporting their pets without having to pay for them to travel — not to those who have a legitimate need…

      …and I do not recall ever intentionally dismissing a legitimate need for a service dog merely because the disability is not physical.

  6. Sabra says:

    It is odd though because these laws have been in effect for almost 26 years and people still don’t know the difference between a service dog and any motional support animal.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      …which is why I reiterated those differences as clearly as possible in multiple articles, Sabra.

      You and I are probably more in agreement on this issue of service dogs versus emotional support animals than you might believe…

  7. sandy says:

    I so appreciate this article because I have a TRAINED service dog. She is a large dog, but she is trained to curl up into the space we have. I know that if we have a bulkhead she is best because she will stay in our seat space even on a tiny plane. I won’t book a flight unless we can have a bulkhead window. I also travel with a t-shirt for her because if the person next to me is allergic the t-shirt will actually help immensely with them not being bothered by her dander. I am always so angry by people who have dogs they travel with and don’t respect other passengers. I also must add, that all of the flight attendants are amazed that she just goes directly to her spot and stays on her blanket regardless of the length of the flight, or the amount of space that she has available to her. If anyone would like to explore this issue further, please contact me because I would love to be an advocate for passengers who have allergies or shouldn’t have their leg space invaded by a service dog.

    1. Judy says:

      Thanks for your message Sandy. I’m terribly allergic to cats and all of this “emotional service animal” garbage, and I only say garbage because soooo many people are abusing the service animal title to do what they want rather than for an actual need, has caused me plenty of issues. It was nice to see a note from someone considerate of those of us with respiratory challenges. I appreciate your efforts to make the people around you more comfortable.

  8. Christina says:

    I don’t deny that some animals do some good for some people. HOWEVER, 2 of my kids have extreme dander allergies (and yes they can eat peanuts and gluten). We did not realize until 2 hours into an 11 hour flight that the sudden coughing fits were really asthma brought on by the cat seated in the row in front of us. Hives and swollen/black eyes followed. I now travel with Benadryl pills that i can mush up (children’s liquid bottle size exceed FAA regulations), as well as a rescue inhaler to share. With all these people being kicked off flights for no reason, I am afraid to speak up, but I wish animal owners understood the implications of their pets being on board and at least let people around them know that Fido is under the seat. And I shouldn’t be afraid of being kicked off the flight for requesting a seat farther away from the animal.
    For some reason, old-fashioned “seeing-eye dog” owners don’t cause the same issues and are much more socially responsible than people who call their spoiled pets “service animals”. -in fact, in my neighborhood, they seem to be the only ones that properly “curb” their dogs in the gutter.

  9. Brandy says:

    Christina I agree with you . I have 5 kids the youngest has sever issues do to dog dander . Why is her health less then the person that uses a dog ? They wouldn’t die without there dog but my child can by having to deal with one that we can’t get away from . Like on a plane . At Disneyland we had a issue after a person had a dog in a backpack and left hair all over the ride . Her eyes swelled and it was enough to make us leave the park . Why can we not ask for proof ? Why is my or my kids health not more of a consern . I don’t mind proving she has sever allergies why don’t they have to do the same ? I AM ASKING THAT ALL SEEVICE DOGS HAVE ID . That all people using a service dog have to show proof or certification that there dog is a trained service dog . I have wal mart for all the fakes there with there house pets . I am just totally fed up . At this point with my 2 year olds heath issues i can only hope someone that matters takes up a fight to get this changed and a way to charge fakers that can show that there dog is a trained service dog .

  10. W says:

    I feel like the situation in the world today is that if I book a flight and so does a blind person with a seeing eye dog or someone with PTSD does, my possible death from being in a recycled air pressure chamber is less of an issue than either of them being inconvenienced for a short time. My allergies don’t care what your animal is doing, only that it is an animal. When will issues like this be addressed?

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