black dog matthew
Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

In Defense of Emotional Support Animals? Not Exactly

“The trouble started when pet owners realized that they could game the system, because airlines did not require much proof of medical need. By claiming one, people could bring an animal on board without putting it in a carry-on bag and without paying a fee that typically runs $125.”

In Defense of Emotional Support Animals? Not Exactly

Let me start off by saying that I mostly agree with everything which was written in this article by David Leonhardt of The New York Times, who opined that it is “time to end the scam of flying pets”; and added that ”It’s true that some people honestly believe they have an emotional condition that an animal solves. But they are often confusing their preferences with actual medical needs.”

In what is otherwise a well-written article, Mr. Leonhardt has missed a couple of points which led up to the current emotional support animal debacle which has become so pervasive in recent years that it has blossomed into a problem which has spiraled out of control for airlines and its passengers.

Pet Fees: Usurious?

First and foremost are the charges to legitimately transport pets aboard airplanes, which can cost as much as $200.00 per pet in each direction with American Airlines as an example. Charges apply for each destination without a voluntary stopover or connection of a minimum of four hours. If the itinerary includes a voluntary stopover or connection of greater than four hours, charges apply for each connection segment. All pet charges are non-refundable and apply per pet, each way.

Service Region Charge
Checked Pet Within and between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean $200.00 per kennel; $150.00 to or from Brazil
Carry-on Pet Within and between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central America, Colombia and the Caribbean — based on specific entry policy of the country $125.00 per kennel
Service Animals All destinations No charge

Rates to carry and ship pets are generally similar with other carriers based in the United States; although you could pay as much as $2,410.00 to ship a pet which weighs a minimum of 300 pounds and a maximum of 350 pounds from the United States to most of Europe or the Asia Pacific region one way — not including applicable fees and surcharges.

Some people believe the rates are fair; and some people may consider the rates too low. Many pet owners believe that the rates are too high — perhaps to the point of usurious. Instead of paying $250.00 to have Fluffy the Wonder Cat or Rover to travel with their owners for every round trip flight within the United States, just pay a fraction of that amount for one flight to get the “qualifications” for the pet to be eligible to become a bonafide emotional support animal who can travel free of charge.

Deaths of Pets

Another factor for the emotional support animal movement may very well be the rate of pet fatalities associated with air travel has increased in recent years.

In August of 2015, “a 5-year-old golden retriever named Cleo was found dead in her kennel upon arrival at Newark-Liberty International Airport after a flight from Seattle, according to a report filed by United Airlines”, according to this article written by Candice Ruud of Newsday. “Cleo is one of 29 dogs, cats and other animals who died on commercial flights in the first 10 months of this year, according to the most recent data from the DOT, which tracks reports of animal deaths, losses and injuries aboard planes.”

Although her cause of death was listed as “natural, resulting from the self-inflicted behavior”, Cleo died of injuries from chewing on her crate, according to the aforementioned article.

The final total of pet fatalities officially reported in 2015 was 35; and at least 529 pets had died, were injured or lost on airlines since 2005 as of the end of 2016, according to this article written by Andy Pierrotti of WXIA-TV Channel 11 News — also known as 11 Alive — in Atlanta. “Airlines say the DOT instituted stricter reporting requirements. Airlines were once only required to report incidents involving pets. Today, airlines also must report all incidents involving all animals, including commercial shipments.”

Gary Leff of View From The Wing wrote in this article the reasons why he would not trust United Airlines with his dog and that United Airlines needs to stop killing animals.

More specifically, 53 animals died on flights operated by United Airlines from January 2012 through February 2017, which accounted for one third of animal deaths on flights within the United States during that period of time. “During 2016, when United transported 109,149 animals, it had incidents of deaths or injuries in 2.11 out of every 10,000 animals, according the department. Hawaiian Airlines, which transported only 7,518 animals, had a higher rate of 3.99 deaths or injuries out of every 10,000 animals”, according to this article written by Bart Jansen of USA TODAY. “During 2015, when United transported 97,156 animals, it had 2.37 incidents per 10,000 animals, according to the department. Envoy Air, which transported only 1,673 animals, had 5.98 incidents per 10,000 animals.”

The death toll of pets transported aboard airplanes has thankfully decreased in 2017, however: according to this latest report dated February of 2018 as issued from the Department of Transportation of the United States, of the 506,994 pets transported by 17 airlines within the United States in 2017, 40 incidents were reported — 24 of which were fatalities; 15 of which were injuries; and one which was lost. That translates to a death toll rate of slightly greater than 0.0047 percent and an animal incident rate of almost 0.0079 percent.

Moreover, the deaths of pets are not necessarily the fault of the airlines. “Many of the deaths were attributed to pre-existing medical conditions”, according to this article written by Ted Sherman for New Jersey Advance Media for Examinations found no cause of death for others. In only a handful did the airlines report the need for corrective action, including an accident involving a dropped pet carrier that injured a Mastiff named Shyla on one United flight in January 2017.”

In an effort to reduce the possibility of injury or death when transporting pets, Delta Air Lines no longer accepts pets as checked baggage effective as of Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

Official Policies by Airlines For Transporting Pets

Each airline has additional policies which need to be reviewed before traveling by flight with your furry friend. The links to the travel polices of transporting of several airlines are as follows:


As indicated by the title, I am not in any way whatsoever defending the charlatans who intentionally commit fraud against airlines to transport their pets free of charge under the guise of passing them off as “emotional support animals.” In fact, passengers who travel with service dogs and legitimate support animals should be — and probably are — outraged at the growing deception perpetrated by the proliferation of pet owners who are trying to save money at the expense of the comfort and safety of fellow passengers…

…but to a point, I can understand the arguments of those who believe that the costs of transporting pets is too expensive; and that they do not want to put their pets in unnecessary danger — but I can hear the arguments against them now: “Then just leave them at home!”

Then again, some people even believe that the very idea of transporting pets away from their familiar, safe and comfortable environments is cruel and unfair to those innocent animals. To a point, I can understand that argument as well.

Unlike the myopic impressions some people have of me — I have been called a liberal; a conservative; a racist; and other labels; and even a few choice epithets and words of profanity — I attempt to keep an open mind and look at all sides of an issue, as I believe that is the best course of action towards arriving at mutually beneficial solutions.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to service dogs and emotional support animals in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including:

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

  1. I don’t know if you are conservative or liberal, but really the only label I would apply to you would be “wishy-washy”. It seems to me that you never want to take a firm position, you always want to be perceived as empathetic to everyone’s point of view. Take a stand!

    All policy decisions will inevitably be perceived as unfair to some people, but that doesn’t make a certain policy right or wrong. Those who are used to receiving something, regardless of whether they deserve it or not, will feel wronged if it is suddenly cut off. Tough cookies.

    The airline, and the other passengers, don’t owe people who choose to travel with their pet free services or goodwill. It is the ultimate in narcissism to think that not only do your perceived needs take priority over everyone else’s, but someone else should also pay for it.

    1. I do not disagree with your point of view, WR — you cannot please everybody — but I have been quite clear pertaining to my firm position that I am vehemently against people fraudulently passing off their pets as “emotional support animals” in every article — including this one — that I have written.

      I have also been staunchly and adamantly opposed to lodging companies implementing mandatory resort fees; frequent travel loyalty programs “enhancing” their policies with little or no announcement; and repeatedly espousing the simple task of properly washing hands to better prevent illness as only three of other examples of taking a firm and unwavering position — but that does not mean I cannot explore and discuss positions about which I do not support or am undecided…

    2. Nonsense! Presenting nuanced arguments and differing viewpoints is not wishy-washy, it’s actually a sign of good writing. He still always says where his opinion falls.

  2. Cleo the dog needed emotional support….NOT THE PERSON….that is why he died.

    Most of these people are using the system to ship their pet animal to join them and the kids on vacation…..Hey why not? Or the animal is a prize breed that they are selling for big bucks.
    People DO make money off animals.

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