Support Animals Versus Allergies: Here We Go Again
“Had 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:
- Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
- 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…