US Airways airplane
Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

When Pigs Fly: Somebody Tell The Sun That This is 2017

A woman was kicked off of an airplane because her emotional support pig was wreaking havoc and causing disruption to fellow passengers…

When Pigs Fly: Somebody Tell The Sun That This is 2017

…but the airline in question is US Airways; and “American Airlines, the parent company of US Airways, confirmed it was taken on board as an emotional support animal.”

Even more odd is that the story was then reported and posted on FlyerTalk — with a link to this “new” article from The Sun, which is dated today, Friday, November 17, 2017; and that article uses an article from ABC News from three years ago.

That the article was posted as new on FlyerTalk is ironic — the article has since been removed — because when I wrote this article pertaining to the pernicious actions of the pig back on Saturday, 

Now Back to 2017

Comments by readers of this article pertaining to the abuse of emotional support animals written earlier this month by Matthew Klint of Live and Let’s Fly confirm that people are still confused as to the differences between bonafide service animals and emotional support animals — at least, in accordance with the law. What blurs that distinction is that some people with emotional support animals — which cannot qualify to be officially designated as support animals — have legitimate reasons for traveling with them as opposed to simply passing a pet off as a service animal to avoid paying fees to travel with them, which has happened numerous times and even resulted in dangerous situations

…but according to the law — not according to opinion, popular or otherwise — distinct differences between service animals and animals used to provide their owners “emotional support” are defined as follows…

Service Animal

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, only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter:

  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, an employee of an airline or other company cannot do the following actions 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

…but the two permitted questions may be more than enough in some cases to have determined whether or not a dog is a legitimate service animal.

Even if a dog is considered a legitimate service animal, an employee of an airline or other company could still have it removed from the premises if the dog is considered:

  1. Out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it; or
  2. Not housebroken

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

  • 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.

Emotional Support Animal

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.

A commercial airline is permitted to require a passenger traveling with an emotional support animal provide written documentation that the animal is an emotional support animal — unlike for a service animal. A fee does not apply to service animals of passengers with disabilities — not even on airlines such as Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, which are known for their proliferation of ancillary fees. Here is a list of airlines with links to their official policies pertaining to animals:

Emotional support animals are not subject to the same training requirements as service animals; nor are they required to be caged — meaning that the policies and requirements for the designation of emotional support animals are more lax than those for service animals. There have been reports of passengers who have not been officially diagnosed with a disability and have allegedly attempted to bring their animals aboard an airplane — falsely passing them off as emotional support animals.


I have no issue with articles which refer to incidents from months or years ago as long as they are either considered “evergreen” — that is, the date of when the article is written and published matters little due to its content — or refer to a related incident or article which is recent. I have done that myself…

…but it seems to me that blindly reporting on an incident from almost three years ago without checking the facts — such as when that incident occurred and that the airline does not even exist anymore — is irresponsible at best, in my opinion.

That reminds me: I have trip reports with photographs from three years ago which I still have not written but would like to post here at The Gate. I will need to indicate them as such if I ever do get around to posting them…

…but in the meantime, should the law be changed to allow emotional support animals to be elevated to similar status as service animals — along with similar rigid requirements which need to be met?

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

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