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. @Walter – first of all you are a d**k. Secondly, you will end up in jail where you belong with that attitude.

    @Gary – venting again about something that won’t change. My daughter has a service dog due to medical conditions and she has flown a good bit with the dog (a golden BTW). True service dogs are trained to stay at people’s feet. If the dog is larger sure it may encroach to some extent but airlines protect people with disabilities right to fly so that won’t change. BTW, I would much rather have a dog encroach on my space than the typical obese American (no offense but from your photo you could lose few pounds and I bet @Walter isn’t a picture of health either).

  2. My last flight there was a “service dog” in the row in front of me. Quotes because when the passenger got up the first time the animal came over to sniff me, and the second time licked the leg of the woman across the aisle.

    Was otherwise well behaved and occupied the space between the seats of a couple traveling together so not a big deal, but definitely a case of someone passing off a non-service animal as such.

  3. Airlines need to quit putting up with the bullshit of $20 internet vests. Put the burden, when it comes to animals, back on the pax. Or just wait until one of these so called fake service animals bites the face off some kid..then que the big lawsuit and rightfully so.

  4. It should be on the airlines to fix this. I think about other accommodations that one sees in the community (ramps, larger restroom facilities, parking spaces, etc.). And on the other hand , as much as I am an advocate for those with disabilities by profession, I really think there should be more responsibility placed on the service dog owner to provide documentation that their dog is a bona fide service dog. I think that’s a fair exchange for providing extra seating space for those with disabilities, including their dog, for the comfort of everyone on the sircraft.

  5. It’s kind of like the Southwest issue isn’t it? Somehow ***all*** these families have kids with debilitating disabilities requiring service animals now. Anything in society requiring an honor system doesn’t work anymore. The doodle or pitbull wearing a service jacket doesn’t fool anyone. This probably makes me angrier than the wheelchair crowd because we would love to bring our pet too. Eventually the law will change and you will need to pay thousands to get a properly trained and certified animal.

  6. Sorry. This has gotten way out of hand. I’m with Gary on this. Lots of comments from enablers will be forthcoming. Pets belong at home. Don’t subject me to your nonsense. Most of you (not all, but most) with the animal vests are scammers and fakers.

  7. While some are piling on @Walter I rather thought his post at least revealed the extreme frustration some of us feel when confronted by this problem. The question never asked is: “How do we stop it?” Shaming companies like Amazon and Ebay into refusing to sell the faux “Service Animal” vests would be a good place to start. I personally mock the owners with a “Oh look, you got a service animal vest on Amazon”. And, although I hate looking for legislation, it may be the only answer.
    I happen to love dogs. Cats , not so much, and, I am extremely allergic to them.
    My personal best on a service (sic) dog was when one sat next to me on a DL flight from ATL to RSW and panted all over my edibles and drink the whole flight. Unusually we had the same plane from PHX to ATL, I had the row behind on that flight and got to watch a Pug dancing the pasodoble on what was to be my tray table the whole flight. And you ask why I use disinfecting wipes?
    @Retired Gambler: Yes, and that’s an old picture Gary uses. BUT as a not infrequent poster to this blog might I kindly suggest that it’s a bit gauche to make personal comments on the physical appearance of the blog owner?

  8. I do a fair amount of international travel and have noticed that it is ONLY in the USA that you see the large volume of people displaying this ridiculous dependency behavior. Everyone else on the planet seems to do just fine without their pets while they travel. Americans are such wimps!

  9. What happen to the old days when dogs were handled as checked luggage and rode with the baggage?

  10. Guy in front of me had an emotional support goldfish.

    Security made him spill out the water for fear of explosives.

    He started crying.

    We all didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  11. On a recent flight from New Orleans I was surprised to see a dog in a carrier on my economy class row. I’m allergic to dog and cat dander and put on a mask hoping I wouldn’t start sneezing or coughing or have chest congestion. Fortunately, I didn’t, but I was disturbed by the fact that I might be subject to these animals on longer flights in the future.

  12. Simple solution, as always. Remove government from the equation and the problem disappears. When individuals are confronted with paying the true cost of their decisions, most of the b.s. “service animals” will disappear. Sorry, but your “disability” doesn’t give you the right to impose hardships on other people.

  13. The actual right answer is for government to codify licensing standards federally for service animals. No official license? Too bad.

    Because they won’t do that, the only reasonable step people can take is to make airlines less scared of a lawsuit from the fraudulent service phonys than of another group. I’ve suggested in the past that people with severe pet allergies speak up more frequently. Allergies, especially severe ones, are a bona fide medical condition under the ADA and if airlines’ legal departments need a nudge to shift calculus into being more afraid of an ADA suit from people with severe allergies, then that’s what it’ll take to end this Noah’s Ark madness.

  14. As a Seeing Eye dog handler, I think there are two distinct issues here, the fake service dogs, which people with disabilities despise as much as you do; and the amount of space all dogs take up, regardless of legitimacy status.

    Speaking to the latter, I am 6’1. I’ve only ever worked larger German shepherds, and one of the realities I had to accept was having leg room obliterated when I worked these canines. Most guide dog schools train the dogs to fit under the seat in front of them. This is generally why blind passengers hate it when airlines insist on guide dog users sit in bulkhead rows. There’s nowhere for the dogs to lie except in front of you and in front of the passenger beside you. It would help if you, as the bystander, speak up when you witness a blind passenger try to explain to the flight attendant why the bulkhead row may not be the most feasible solution.

    I don’t want to consume more space than what is necessary. I imagine this is applicable to other blind passengers. It is our responsibility to do things like remove the harness, situate the dog beneath the seat, and ensure the dog doesn’t get nosy during the flight. They’re highly trained animals, but ultimately, they’re still dogs. They get bored if they’re not sleeping. If you’re a dog lover and want to say hello, and have my permission, have at it, but there does need to be a little consideration on both sides.

    As a non-disabled passenger, I imagine it is your right to ask to move seats if you are allergic or just don’t want to sit next to a service dog for any reason. If airlines can accommodate families, they ought to be able to accommodate such requests.

    Thank you to everyone who can understand the complexities brought on by the influx of fake emotional support animals. It makes life more challenging, especially for people with legitimate need. There’s no reason why we should resort to the sort of attitude Sir Walter is promoting.

  15. Retired gambler – GFYS. Your daughters accomodation does t include encroaching on others space you entitled nob.

  16. I travel every other week and have seen 1 service animal in past two years. A blind man had a seeing eye dog. Other than that zero

  17. Quick question to all of the know it ALLs.
    What is a service dog ?
    What training do they go through?
    Probably none of you have no clue!!!
    First and foremost service dogs are trained for many different purposes. Some more extensive then others.
    Probably the most highly train service animal is the service animal that is trian for the visually impaired. (Working dog).
    With that begin said at the end of the day they are dogs.
    They bark, they like attention.
    My neighbors service dog is trained for one thing and one thing only and it’s for his PTSD. Other then that it acts like any other pet.
    Barks when someone knocks on the door, doesn’t like cats or ducks. Loves to play fetch.
    Do your research before running your lips.
    Just as no legitimate service dog certification exists within the United States, and just as service dog handlers do not need to carry papers’, members of the public (including staff at businesses) are not legally allowed to ask you anything other than two questions regarding your disability or your service dog. Apr 1, 2023

  18. Granted, I usually don’t fly more than a dozen times per year. With that being said, I’ve seen several service animals ~ emotional support, if you will, and not even once have I seen any situation that caused havoc or inconvenience (I’ve had them in my row several times)
    I’m not sure of the motivation behind the constant state of agitation regarding service dogs… or the other label. But, one thing I know, ….. screaming young children cause many times the grief and inconvenience than the dogs. I cannot even keep track of how many 5 year olds kicked the heck out of the back of my seat while their parents pretended not to notice. Yet, this never seems to make the news.
    Oh well, must have been another slow news day.

  19. I pay $125 per flight to keep my dog in a carrier under the seat. She weighs 11 pounds, is14, partially blind and deaf, behaved, and most people don’t know she’s there. She also counts as one of my two carry-ons. So not all people who bring pets lie about dogs being a service animal.

  20. The solution for both passengers needing assistance and service animals is to provide a handicap placard for the former, and creating a similar device for people in need of a service animal. The handicap placard requires a physician to write an order on a state form for the placard, and take that to a government office. Then, to get early boarding, one should show a handicap placard, and to bring a service animal, they should need to show the government issued document. This prevents fake doctor’s notes, as the doctor has to put their license number on the form, and could lose their license. This way, the owner is licensed, not the animal. The document will have a number, which could be required on the reservation, so the airline can make appropriate arrangements, and check with the state to ensure it’s a valid name/number. If the state has an electronic registry, it might even avoid the need to present the document at the airport. It would also keep both of these categories out of the exit row (except on Southwest, of course).

  21. James N spot on. I work at a major airport and deal all the time with passengers who have real disabilities. Most have no service animals! The vast amount of people with service animals have no true disability and will often time laughingly tell me they are doing this to avoid the pet fees.

  22. It’s the same issue as the wheelchair thing – the government has created a legal loophole that only government can fix. “Service animals” must be accommodated, by law. The legal definition of “service animal” appears to essentially be anything any individual wishes. People like Gary and other commenters always use the term “legitimate” or “real” service animals – until the law actually defines what that is under these various disability accommodation laws, your terms “legitimate” and “real” are meaningless.

  23. The airlines should give people the option of buying an extra seat if you want to travel with your pet and allow pets larger than they currently do to occupy that space. Others can claim they have allergies but that makes no difference if a true service animal is on board so why would it make a difference in this case? If it’s not a pet but is a true service animal, that animal is highly trained and is not going to interact with other passengers (or with those animals who are pets). Those people that are truly in need of a service animal should not have to pay extra for their need to travel. It is beyond imagination that anyone would begrudge them that animal even if it did intrude into their space. I’m sure not going to hold my breath for the airlines to voluntarily make more space when a passenger requires a service animal. On one flight I was on, the passenger next to me was disabled and kept tilting into my seat space. Yes, an annoyance, but what kind of ass would I be if I reacted badly to that? As a civilized society, we need to make allowances for those less able bodied. As for the unmitigated anger and hate of people such as Walter, they need to get some therapy.

  24. @FF2
    This doesn’t mean what you likely think it does:
    “Probably none of you have no clue!!!”

  25. “…the government has created a legal loophole that only government can fix.” Ugh!

    “For politicians, the red tape that ensnarls citizens is a feature, not a bug, of government.” Don Boudreaux

  26. We have to regularly fly with our service animal. She is a registered, trained and well mannered. The agents and TSA regularly comment favorably on her behavior and interaction with crowds. They know the difference but cannot confront passengers. When we went through the process, which is expensive, we were matched with an animal for our son that matched our lives and what was required which was traveling via air every other week. The best choice was a border collie because of their intelligence and size being able to fit under the seat in front of us or in between our legs on commuter aircraft. I agree that these animals should not encroach on other passengers space or being offensive nor have a free seat. I shake my head on what people bring on the aircraft. We have a service ID, state registration, and health records and show them on request. There should be a federal standard and identification for service animals, not just a vest.
    Just my opinion

  27. What’s the reason we can’t have small bags at our feet for takeoff and landing?

    Either impeded egress or projectile.

    An unsecured large dog represents both safety hazards.

  28. LOL this whole discussion around service animals again?

    Yes people misuse it
    No if an animal sniffs you it still can be a service animal

    Owners of service animals are not the problem the Airlines are. They just ignore it. Make no accomodations or similar.

  29. I’m a librarian. I had a woman come in and need help filling out paperwork. She told me she wanted to take her dog on vacation with her, and the airlines denied her paperwork. She needed help filing an appeal. She asked, “Why do airlines make this so difficult?” I answered, “Probably because people keep saying their pets are service animals, when they’re clearly not.”

    She told me this dog was not well behaved, barked at everything, and didn’t like being on a leash. Just why? Get a dog sitter.

  30. The most common service animal for Americans seems to be the obesity assistance dog.

    Much like the owner, it spends the flight begging for snacks and passing wind, and doesn’t properly fit in the space allocated.

  31. @AC – Your daughter just needs to get over it and buy an extra spot rather than blaming everyone else.

  32. Just an FYI not all service dogs are highly trained such as a working service dog for a blind person. I have a 17 lb dog who is NOT trained but has acquired the ability to wake me up when having I have medical episode and get help if I don’t wake up. Because of this natural ability that he has, my doctor has provided me a letter stating my need for him.

    If I am traveling alone he always travels with me, and regardlesss of his small size I always either get a first class seat or purchase an extra seat. I do this because I feel that it is rude to encroach on anothers space. If I am traveling with someone the little guy stays home.

    I feel John H’s suggestion is the best that I have read. I get so frustrated when I see people with a fake animal. It makes it harder for us that need our service animal.

  33. walter with the dirty mouth has less regards for disabled persons needs than for his own selfish self gratification, obviously he’s more concerned about discriminating against service animals and their owners like he is about the people he is using derogatory comments about and to,should people like walter even be allowed on airplanes with normal people that have some respect ,his disability seems worse than anything read so far

  34. THERE is a cure for this
    1 bring a dog whistle with you.
    2 bring one of the squeakies from a dog toy.

    Annoy the dog and the owners.

  35. Sitting in 1st class. A guy one row behind and across the aisle had two little doggies in cages with him. One of them had diarrhea and took a dump in his cage stinking up the whole plane. The man took the dog into the rest room to cleaned the cage resulting in closure of the rest room. Why did everyone on the plane have to breath that foul air so that he could bring his dog?

  36. On an Embraer once with 3 “emotional support dogs”. One was supposed to be seated next to a woman with a phobia against dogs. Fortunately flight attendant could accommodate, but allergies and phobias are not uncommon. Those too are disabilities.

  37. First off, I would MUCH RATHER have a flight full of fur kids than even ONE human crotch dropping. These sentient beings may have a true reason for going where they are going and this is the best way to do it.

    BTW I h8 people in general.

  38. @Nick, service dogs aren’t just the standard lab, golden, shepard, etc. I have a service dog, she is trained, she does her job, she is a doodle. It’s not about the breed, it’s about the services they provide. There are breeders out there that train doodles and other non standard breeds, look it up.

  39. Mets fan in nc- there are three service animals on my flight right now. They are far from a rarity.

  40. I have a service dog I try to get a window seat dog goes against side of plane and my other leg keeps her in my leg space unless the person flying next to me says they don’t mind her in their space. I also tell person next to me to let me know if she gets in their space

  41. Wow you all – compassion in the US is completely gone. Has anyone actually thought of the reasons why someone needs to fly with a dog? I don’t fly around with my dogs for fun but I have had to fly with them on occasion and I paid for them. We move out of the US to another country across the ocean. I wasn’t trying to interfere with all your lives, torture or make people miserable – just trying to get from A to B like everyone else. My dogs were put under the seat and no one even knew we had them until we got off the plane and let them pop their heads out. By the way the costs were significant – not just for the flight but also the vet and paperwork from USDA required for each dog cost hundreds of dollars – between 500- $1000 each for everything.

    Service dogs are needed for some and disabilities are not always blatantly seen. A flight is a few hours – a disability is a lifetime. Compassion and grace would go a long way for that person.
    I do agree if the dog is large that the person should inform the airline ahead of time and the airline should give a free seat next to the person to not but a burden on the passenger seated next to them.

  42. I always travel with my cat. I just wish that instead of paying an extra $100 to have her in a carrier at my feet, I could instead buy a second seat for her. Airlines didn’t make that an option though. Even with an extra seat, I’d still have to pay the additional $100 per direction to have my cat take the place of my carryon.

  43. It’s really unfortunate that ableism is so rampant in this country and probably worldwide. It’s really depressing to see that people have no understanding of what it is like to live your life with a disability. I truly hope that people become more aware and more kind.

  44. if you cannot go 2-6 hrs w/o your emotional dog, goat, horse, peacock, parrot etc
    perhaps you should be spending more time in your analyst’s chair
    this situation is way out of control to the detriment of those of us who only want to get
    from point A to B in some degree of relative comfort and safety

  45. I HATE fur babies!
    Next time one encroaches in my space I’ll be making a coat out of it a la Cruella DeVille.

    You damn dog nutters!

  46. When commenters call them “fur kids” or “fur babies”, it’s real easy to guess their opinion. Few dogs and handlers seem to be professionally trained like the Service Dogs that assist a disabled person (mainly the Seeing Eye Dogs/Guide Dogs for the Blind). Then there are the Fake service dogs such as most are on the airplanes and in grocery store shopping carts. All well trained Service Dogs know that it’s “four on the floor.”

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