Service Animals On Planes: It’s All Of Us Who Bear The Cost

Passengers can bring service animals on a plane, and don’t have to pay extra to do so. They just have to fill out paperwork, which largely amounts to attesting that it’s a service animal.

Emotional support animals aren’t supposed to be a thing on planes anymore, but it’s really an ‘honor system’ sort of thing.

That means that there are still plenty of animals on planes, even if it’s not the Noah’s Ark two of each animal situation that it used to be. The average passenger wanting to bring an emotional support animal also happens not to be very good at handling the paperwork in advance.

When you see an animal at your feet, encroaching on your space, do you ever stop to wonder why it is that you’re the one stuck giving up your space for the animal? Why is it that passengers are forced to pay the price when a seat opponent brings an animal onto the plane?

“Service Dog” in my leg space the entire flight. Should I complain?
byu/noteverythingnotyet inunitedairlines

The Americans With Disabilities Act generally places a burden on employers and businesses to make themselves accessible to workers and customers. The idea is that one party incurs the cost, rather than dispersing costs on those with a disability. That way people can be more included in society, whether as employees or patrons of stores holding themselves out to the public.

But airlines work differently. First, air travel accommodations are governed by the Air Carrier Access Act rather than the Americans With Disabilities Act. And second, the burden of accommodating those with disabilities – or who claim disabilities – generally falls on other passengers and not just the airline.

While airlines are responsible for providing wheelchairs to those who need them (or who just wish to board early), when a passenger requires more space that space usually comes from their seatmate.

You already do not get very much space in economy on a plane, so you’re the one least well position to provide the accommodation. Yet you’re the one stuck. Alternatives:

  • Passenger pays for the space that they need, if their pet needs space then they buy space for their pet.

  • Airline pays by providing a free extra seat. That’s closer to how the burden is usually treated under law elsewhere, though it surely seems unfair when it’s an emotional support animal where the passenger has simply filled out the paperwork claiming it’s a service animal.

There are real service animals, and animals that passenger call service animals. Does it matter whether the passenger actually has a qualifying need, for you to care that they’re taking up your space?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have absolutely no problem with qualified service animals (dogs) being permitted on planes. But, they must be qualified. Just as people with handicaps/disabilities can get a permit for their car to park in designated spots, why can’t people with service dogs be required to carry a similar permit that grants their dog access on a plane? It doesn’t have to specify what disability, just that it has been certified, trained and medically required. No document, Fluffy doesn’t fly. I have see too many so called service dogs (fake harness you can get on Amazon) that misbehave, are on a flexilead wandering around, be aggressive, etc. A true service dog (Pilot Dogs, Canine Comoanions for Independence and similar) are put thru extensive training and provide the necessary help an individual needs.

  2. A flex lead is not necessarily a sign that the animal is not really in service. My son has a service animal to alert for an impending seizure. His helper is only supposed to perform this task because my son is unable to voice commands. Thus, the hard harness required to lead someone would be inappropriate.

  3. As an animal lover “But I don’t fly with my animals” It simply doesn’t bother me if there are animals on the flight or not and honestly if you can’t afford the cost of your flight because the airline charges everyone 50% more because of animals, then you should seek more adorable transportation.

    I find only people that do not like animals or are not empathetic have problems with animals in society regardless if they have a medical paperwork or not.

  4. Yeah not only is this guy completely….. It is a very very extenuous background search done on the dog it has to be verified medical records training records I speak from experience I have a qualified diabetic alert dog that is made over 150 flights cross country with me she’s also saved my life several times as I’m insulin dependent. My dog has to show proper paperwork that is checked quarterly everything has to be up to date training medical records everything has to be checked days before we board the plane so it’s not just people bsing their way on with a emotional support animal or pet if you see a service animal on a commercial flight it is a vetted legitimate service animal.

  5. Does this guy know how disgusting he comes across regarding disabled people? Personally, I believe emotional support animals should be given the right to remain with their human the same as service dogs. Put your pitchforks down, please. I suffer from severe PTSD. Large groupings of people can cause anxiety attacks so debilitating that I usually end up having to leave and miss out on life experiences. My panic attacks keep me from shopping in stores, attending any sort of gathering, and it borders on agoraphobia. Depending on the trigger and environmental factors that I have no control over, my panic can even become dangerous for the source of the trigger. Flying in a plane is something I always wanted to experience. However, my mother survived a plane crash, as did her father and her father’s girlfriend, who owned and was piloting the plane herself. The plane was destroyed but they all survived. Flying is, naturally, going to create anxiety for me. I can’t afford any MORE anxiety to be cop-knocking on my mental health’s dilapidated door. Compound the natural circumstantial anxiety with the demons from my past and now we’re cookin’, folks! Now I would be literally trapped in what I’ll believe is a death machine (illogical but my brain won’t accept that and behave accordingly), surrounded by strangers, with no ability to physically escape but also no ability to escape the trauma the panic attack itself causes in addition to the absolute anguish I experience while my brain tells me my life is in immediate danger & my body responds in kind. Can you imagine to yourself how exhausting that might be? I don’t experience hallucinations but I do experience the physical response of fight, freeze or flea. My heart is aging faster than my chronological age and general health would do without the effects of PTSD. Stress kills. As it is, I’ve been in heart failure and need a pacemaker. I’m 40, 5ft tall and around 110lbs. Panic attacks are not some state of mind and I can get over it if I just try hard enough. This is a physically debilitating health condition and my emotional support dog has allowed me to return to the land of the living. Meet Harley. Harley is only Petsmart obedience trained, she is a purebred dog but I got her from a shelter when she was about 11mos old. She had witnessed her previous humans violent murder, she was covered in mange with huge patches of fur missing and scabbed skin everywhere and I could count her ribs. She has trauma all on her own but I knew it the instant she came up to me and put her neck on my neck and wrapped her arms around my waist, that she was the one for me. She sensed my turmoil as I was so heartbroken seeing her in such condition. She was so attuned to my emotional state AND knew exactly how to comfort me. There are service dogs currently being trained to assist vets with PTSD but it’s a pilot program and the training alone can be upwards of $25k or more and here, my shelter dog with no service-related training whatsoever does the exact same thing for me but naturally. She immediately senses the shift in my emotional state and will stop whatever she’s doing to come put her neck on my neck and wrap her arms around me. And I do mean whatever she’s doing: playing fetch in my aunt’s backyard, playing with a neighbors dog, sniffing something cool while on a walk, midstride while chasing a squirrel and even when eating a yummy steak. I physically feel the panic recede from my body, like water on a fire. But I can’t take her on a flight with me without paying double. I work in the field of nonprofit social services – I don’t make very much money and usually can’t afford a plane ticket just for myself even. My dog does perform a vital service for me but she didn’t cost thousands of dollars so I guess her service and my debilitating medical condition just don’t count. Emotional support is a physical thing. Emotions ARE physical because they are created and managed by our brain. Mental health IS medical health. Good to know this author is unwilling to sacrifice temporarily not having as much space as he would prefer so that someone with a disability (PTSD is a disability according to SSA) can have the opportunity to participate in basic functions of life. Yes, let’s deprive someone of the chance to live a fulfilling life like the vast majority of the population because this guy wants more room for his Lamb‐o-feeties. This author, and willfully ignorant people like him, are out of touch with reality and have no empathy for anyone except themselves. Narcissistic & toxic AF. I feel like I need a shower after reading this article. Bleh.

  6. Frankly I’d rather have the entire plane full of animals. If I see a service animal on a plane, my first reaction would be to bond with it, and if it’s sitting right next to me, that’s my buddy for the flight. Between screaming kids and self entitled adults, give me a four legged companion any day of the week

  7. Considering the non-zero number of “pet dies in cargo area despite being in properly marked crate saying ‘live animal'” cases… I’m ok with people bringing service animals, or small pets they care about, with them. The slight risk of death to a pet in “pressurized cargo spaces only” packaging is more than high enough for me to say “keep it with you if you can”.

  8. What a burden it is to have to accommodate any other human for any reason. Perhaps you could move to the wilderness and relieve the rest of us of the burden of having to accommodate your willful ignorance.

  9. I am saddened by the miss use of any person claiming to need a service dog and don’t. Lying about your pet being a service or emotional care animal is horrible. I have a legitimate medical and emotional need for an emotional service dog. I have a letter from a doctor. Be ledal!

  10. I am very afraid of dogs plus I am on immunosuppressants to reduce liver transplant rejection. I have to avoid animals. Forcing me to sit near a dog in a confined airplane is very dangerous.
    But I feel as if I have no rights.

  11. Call Jeff according to HIPAA laws you’re not allowed to ask what the animal is for and if you can’t understand that then you need to go spend some time with your homeboy Donald Trump I’m an American and I have disability and a serves animal can be for two different things cuz they get attached to those service animals and eventually they wind up being an emotional sport animal also if you don’t like it drive or take a train

  12. Travis, maybe you should drive or take a train. If someone really needs one of these animals, they should pay extra for it and DO NOT infringe on someone else’s already limited (ie. small space).

  13. Just a bunch of bull#@#. I would guess that about 90% of people claiming emotional support are lying through there teeth. It’s a fad. Where were all these animals 15 years ago. No one can question these entitled people because of the fear of getting cancelled. Politically correct. What a world we live in…..

  14. I have a service dog. A German shepherd. I fly 1-2 times a year. I know I’m going to fly so I save money and shop smart. We always fly 1st class and I keep Colt in my space. Before Colt I never would have considered paying for 1st but with him, it’s only fair. Both to him and to my seat-mate.

  15. Worst experience was seeing someone on a flight have an allergic reaction which turned out to be from an animal that flew on the plane’s previous flight! Scary.

  16. It’s the “ADA puts a burden on customers and employers” for me.
    “I just don’t wanna deal with disabled people in cramped spaces why can’t they just stay home and not enjoy things like abled people can urgh”

  17. The only time I’ve flown with my service dog I took the emergency exit row and the crew member put her bag next to me so no one would sit there. The guy who chose the isle seat Sat there because he wanted to sit next to my dog.
    And the service dog community hate ESA’s as much as the rest of the world does.

  18. If you had a disability you would understand. Just because someone isn’t missing an arm or leg or showing some other outward sign of a disability does not mean they don’t need assistance. If you suffered from anxiety or depression you would be more sympathetic. Both of these are so debilitating that sufferers have difficulty getting out of bed. Some people with anxieties have difficulty even eating and become so nervous and panicky they can’t eat. If you, your son or daughter needed a service animal I am sure your view would change. Lastly it is proven animals are calming. Enjoy their beauty. Additionally most of them are better behaved than children; they don’t kick your seat!

    Until these haters walk in a disabled person’s shoes they will not understand. Be kind to those less fortunate than yourselves. Remember our time on earth is temporary. Be kind.

  19. This is to the guy that says if you see a service animal on an aircraft, then they are real. That’s completely false. Due to the disability acts and laws if you have paperwork for the animal we have to take it at face value. There are many dogs on our planes that ARE NOT real service animals. A person can tell the real ones from the fake ones. It’s sad that people take advantage of this and I feel sorry for the people that have to deal with stereotypes because of people claiming their animal as a service pet.

  20. I pay for a seat for my service dog. I am happy to do it. I do not want my dog or anyone on the plane to be uncomfortable.
    My dog does not shed, but shedding service dogs scare me in public areas. I worry about triggering allergies in fellow passengers.

  21. Yes, while we are at it, let’s can all things that personally inconvenience ME, starting with kids and drunk people. Oh and old people who take too long getting down the ramp. /s

    Or maybe I will educate you a bit. There are no official certifications for service dogs. Why? Because it’s very expensive to raise and train service dogs and send them through a government approved/mandated certification program. Many people who could benefit from a service dog would never be able to afford them.
    Thus there is an allowance for people to self train their service dog. For a dog to be called a service dog, it only has to be trained to perform a specific task for it’s person. For example, a person with PTSD such as myself, may require their dog to lay across them to apply pressure in order to alleviate their panic attack so they don’t have to be a shut-in. That dog doesn’t need to be able to open doors or call 911 or play tic-tac-toe. As long as it can perform the task it’s needed for, it can be called a service dog. I would never have been able to afford a dog that had gone through a program, but I could train my dog to do that one specific task. Having my dog has allowed me to have a job, travel, and you know, generally live like you might take for granted. So sorry if that inconveniences you.

    It is up to the airlines to determine further guidelines, like they can kick the dog off if it is aggressive.

    I agree they need to do better in regard to handling of service animals and seating. And yes, people abuse the policies. But the airlines need to figure it out. Maybe guidelines for size and if the animal exceeds the size, you pay for another seat. I don’t know, that’s for them to work out.

    If you really want to write about issues that affect the quality of air travel, maybe find some issues that truly desire ire. I for one would love to hear more guidelines for preventing over served (drunk) people who get into fights, cause delays and redirects of entire flights. I’ve never seen a dog act as bad on an airplane as I have drunk people. And don’t get me started on the kids…

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