Sonny big white dog face
Photograph ©2006 by B. Cohen.

Why It is NOT Time to Ban Emotional Support Animals From Airplanes

S alient and cogent reasons are given in the argument of permitting passengers to bring what are referred to as “emotional support animals” aboard an airplane for a commercial flight, according to this article written by Christopher Elliott on LinkedIn — but does that mean that the time to ban emotional support animals from airplanes is now?

Reasons Against Emotional Support Animals

In that article are many reasons against emotional support animals cited by Elliott — including:

  • Emotional support animals are more likely treated like pets than for emotional support purposes
  • Some passengers are perpetuating a scam where they can transport their pets free of charge while pet owners who legitimately transport their pets must pay for the privilege
  • The size and behavior of the animals can encroach upon the space and comfort of a fellow passenger — to the point where an animal can become so unruly that the owner is escorted off of the airplane, as with this example which contains video
  • Their presence can potentially cause discomfort to passengers who may experience allergic reactions or other health concerns — such as when passengers allegedly cheered, laughed and applauded at the removal of a boy from an airplane simply because he suffered a severe allergic reaction as the result of a dog which was present aboard the aircraft

Why It is NOT Time to Ban Emotional Support Animals From Airplanes

“I have obtained an ESA dog, she is small, and she helps me get through the day and thru thunder storms”, reader Dave SGT RETIRED posted in the Comments section in response to this article pertaining to a confession claiming that emotional support dogs are “BS” by a pet owner. “I havent been too a 4th of july in 7 years and dont like crowds. She has helped me to back off some of the medications that the VA gives me for anxiety attacks and my PTSD. I did 5 years in iraq and 23 years in the army. And at this point I dont really know if I could be without her, she is registered thru NSAR and I had to give medical proof of my problems, actual documents signed by a few different doctors…she goes everywhere with me but we haven’t flown on a plane yet but I don’t think I want too, cause I after iraq i just dont care much for planes anymore.. it’s the people that all out lie to get their dog registered, Hell I had to tell, actually tell and prove that I have a problem, and i think that if she wasn’t in my life right now I would have already ended my life awhile ago……”

Brian — who is another reader of The Gateposted in the Comments section in response to this article pertaining to more evidence of owners faking pets as emotional support animals: “I am the parent of a son with autism, ADHD, and anxiety. He is high functioning and does not, at present, need a service animal of any kind, including an emotional support animal. But we right now are always traveling with him. Animals do, however, calm him and relieve his fears and anxieties and I could foresee a need for a service animal for him especially if he travels alone as he gets older. I think it a shame that people’s fraudulent claims of need where none exist might make it more difficult for him to have an animal if his condition worsens in the future. People have no shame.”

Conversely — albeit rarely — legitimate service animals and their owners have been reportedly denied boarding an airplane. Here is one example which I reported in this article: “Axel, a heroic service dog that saved the life of one of our nation’s brave warriors and had just been named Service Dog of the Year at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards® during a star-studded, nationally televised gala at the Beverly Hilton, was denied permission to accompany Captain Jason Haag as they were about to board the airplane for home.”

Although I have no evidence to support the statement that an outright ban can increase the chances of members of flight crews denying legitimate service dogs and their owners from boarding an airplane, I do believe that the possibility does exist.

Will There Eventually Be a Solution?

“The Department of Transportation will soon decide whether an emotional-support animal is a service animal”, wrote Elliott. “Airlines are pushing the government to adopt a more restrictive definition.”

There is only one problem: that may not be the case in the near future. “Airlines are never required to permit animals onboard aircraft that are behaving improperly or endangering the safety or health of passengers”, FlyerTalk member US Department of Transportation — who is an unidentified official with the Department of Transportation of the United States — posted in this discussion which was a live interactive session of questions and answers for two hours on Wednesday, October 19, 2016. “Further, the Department had also been actively working on the definition of a service animal through a negotiated rulemaking process that brought together industry representatives, consumer advocates, and the other stakeholders as part of the ACCESS Advisory Committee. However, on Wednesday, October 12, the ACCESS Advisory Committee voted to discontinue discussions on service animals as the service animal discussions reached the point where further talks seemed unlikely to either move towards consensus or generate significant new and useful information. Although we were not able to reach consensus, the service animal discussions have yielded a wealth of information that will greatly benefit the Department as it proceeds to draft its proposed new rule on service animals.”


Lawmakers, airlines and organizations such as the American Humane Association need to collaborate on creating fair policies towards laws to ensure that those passengers who need support animals while traveling be allowed to do so as comfortably as possible without fear of discrimination; but also without leaving loopholes to allow for abuse of the system — flagrant or otherwise…

…but unfortunately — if the aforementioned statement from the unidentified official with the Department of Transportation is of any indication — the possibility of that happening anytime soon appears to be unlikely.

Regardless — as adamant as I am about prohibiting passengers from blatantly passing off pets as “emotional support animals” so that they can be transported free of charge — I respectfully disagree with Christopher Elliott that now is the time to ban emotional support animals from airplanes. Rather, the time has been long overdue to effectively increase restrictions to the point where passengers who actually need animals to accompany them for legitimately therapeutic purposes are still able to do so; while keeping those passengers who are effectively committing fraud from successfully completing their agenda of transporting their pets with them without paying a penny to transport them.

Photograph ©2006 by B. Cohen.

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