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. @RJ, If you read the comments, you will find there a few idiots/trolls on this subject. But, understand the common thread here is 1) fake service dogs are loathed (not the dog, but the owner), 2) reasonable accommodation to true service dogs is appropriate/expected, 3) the accommodation in (2) should not be borne by other psssagengers, and (4) most of these service animals are a ruse to get a pet on board uncaged. We spend most of our time focused on (1), (3), and (4).

    Rarely are any of the pets masquerading as service animals being transported to a new home.

  2. @Retired Gambler
    Somebody hurt you, so you get to spread hate here? Hell is wrong with you?

  3. I’m a disabled veteran. I have a service dog for mobility and PTSD.
    I fly with him. I purchase premium seats for additional leg room. He is positioned under the seat in front of me and between my legs unless circumstances do not permit it. He doesn’t bark or disturb the other passengers. Service dogs are to be seen not heard or petted unless permitted.
    I try to book a window seat. This way my dog does not have to be disturbed if someone needs to go to the head. His size lets him fit under the seat easily unlike labs, golden retriever’s, labradoodles, etc. By the way, his breed is an American Bulldog Terrier mix rescue. He was trained to be a service animal from the age of four months. He is my only animal and important lifeline.

  4. I have a REAL Service Dog..My condition and needs, requires him to be “Off-leash”..
    I’ve had my ADA Right trampled on for over a decade..
    Furthermore, it’s the small town Sheriff’s Offices that Violate my Rights more than anyone else..
    Even after I show them the ADA Laws,they still Refuse to comply..

  5. Be thankful that you are not ♿ and have compassion for owners that need the lifeline they provided. Are you so self centered that you can’t allow yourself to sacrifice a little

  6. Gary, service animals are NOT pets! My daughter’ service dog is for mobility, anxiety & because she’s on the spectrum. The 3 of us fly together and in the bulkhead seats, so no one else’s space is affected. Her dog was trained for 14 months. You seem pretty ignorant of services they can provide and only selfishly caring how it affects you!

  7. True service dogs are highly trained animals and it takes a couple of years. I’m sick and tired of some in our society caring more about themselves than others while trying to pass off fake service dogs and trampling on my rights. The US has become a country of nothing but self serving people who care more about themselves than their neighbors. For people who truly need service dogs I have no issue but the rest of you with fake service animals you all need to stop being so selfish and start caring about others.

  8. Im a diabetic with seizures and my little guy doesn’t look or act like a service dog but when my sugar is low and im about to go down he knows he is in my face a under my left hand and or lickings my ears and wining. My own Dr saw this first hand and asked for him to get his medallion. Soooooo what do people have to say to that? Im just saying not all service dogs look or act like the old school service dog. There’s a new breed of veterans and disabilities. Times have changed . It’s time for people to become more educated.

  9. I have a service dog. I purposely leave my service dog at home if I have a family member or friend who can provide the same services to me. I do not wish to encroach on other people’s space, or affect those who are allergic or afraid of dogs. If it is possible to leave him home I do. In the situations when it is not possible, I seat myself in areas away from other people as much as possible. This being said the OP has every right to be able to sit with her feet in front of her and move a little bit for her flight. Both of those dogs are taking up the space that she paid for. Again if the owners need those dogs to be with them, they should be with them, they should not have to pay more to have them there, but at the same time they need to have enough room to keep their dog in their space not someone else’s. My service dog is a great Pyrenees. He is huge and 160 lb. I would never try to fit him on a plane unless I purchased an extra seat with enough room for him without getting in someone else’s space. People have a right to the space that they purchased just as much as a disabled person has a right to have their service animal with them.

  10. All you haters…I have a hearing dog who goes everywhere with me..and never even one time in our travels around the world….has there been a problem with ( fake) service dogs. ..if a dog acts like smells like a service dog that’s all you need to know. Stop making accusations that you don’t know about. Personally I think everyone should have a service dog

  11. These fake vests have been around long enough that the DoJ and ADA need to start certifying and documenting service animals. The honor system is a complete failure in this aspect.

  12. Flying is uncomfortable for everyone, unless you are in 1st class We travel with my hearing dog (10#Chihuahua) who is trained and caged during travel (for his safety so he won’t get trampled) and directly under my or my husband’s seat. Please can we be a little more giving for those who have larger animals?

  13. In all the years of the Internet, this is only the third time I have felt compelled to comment on a story.

    I find it quite fascinating that this article from a website which I regularly read and appreciate the information derived from it, was written in a rather slanted way. More as an unresearched op-ed piece.

    Yes, there are passengers who abuse
    the pet/service animal travel rules and make it difficult for those of us who have a legitimate need. As such, I generally try to fly in business or first class but as a person who not only was a travel agent and worked for the airlines in the 1980s, I agree that the abuse of “emotional support“ assistance pets and true “service animals“ has definitely strayed from its original path and intent. I suggest a tranquilizer if one can’t handle the modern air travel and are emotionally affected, but I state that as my opinion.

    Because my medical condition does not require a large animal, but rather a small dog (that is ALLOWED to sit on my lap) able to smell my blood and detect diabetic changes in it so for his comfort, travels in a carrier kept underneath the seat in front of me. In the event he detects changes in my blood which could be of consequence, he will alert me by softly barking and acting fidgety.while inside his carrier bag, this affects no one. The legroom for someone who elects to pay for a cheap economy seat and knows that the airlines have continually decreased the amount of space in that class of service, is making that choice on their own. To pay an additional $15 – $35 for a seat which offers a whopping 3 inches of extra legroom is your option, as is changing seats if available all the way prior to departure as stated by one of the other readers commenting.on this article, is yours.

    If there is a situation, address it with the flight crew. Even 40 years ago, we were trained to deal with everything that could knowingly arise. I feel your article has been written as a complaint more than it has as an objective statement on the topic of travel with true service animals. Such as a blind individual who requires a larger size service animal.

    You have decreased my impression of your website, but there are plenty others which are capable of composing a report or article objectively and without bias.

    Perhaps if you, the author, had a disability, you may have written this in a different tone. I know that I will be clicking on less stories as this was a very poorly researched and written report.

    If you want to write a story complaining about passengers who abuse the policies, then make that the topic and remember to include the airlines’ decisions in your writings. But do not write this story in a manner which implies anyone with a legitimate need creates an inconvenience for your legroom. I would like to write a story about parents who let their children misbehave during flights and do nothing about it – but that would be the headline, not something, misleading and lacking a “both sides of the coin” article as you have composed.

    Kind regards,
    A passenger with a true disability

  14. Your article really slants towards an agenda against anyone with a disability and has a service dog. I have a service dog. She and I trained for a year before certifying with our organization. We continue to train monthly because it is important to keep my dog’s skills sharp. I have to show proof of her service dog certification before we fly. Our organization works with the airlines so we don’t have difficulties when we fly. The trained service dog isn’t the problem. It is the narrow mindedness and discrimination towards those if us with disabilities and service dogs that is the problem. People like you. I am sorry you chose to behave this way. Shame on you.

  15. You are a very self centered writer. Although it can be annoying that people bring fake service dogs onto flights and into just about any public area, that doesn’t give you the right to discriminate against trust service dogs and their disabled owners. Service dogs need to be trained and well behaved, and I feel as though stricter rules should be placed on service animals to prevent those who are not true service animals from being allowed in public areas. You should also never say accommodating those with a disability is a burden, that is flat out disrespectful of you. I highly frown upon you and how you choose to treat those with disabilities, yes I know, not much room is provided on planes, however, true service dogs and their owners are shown how to position their service dogs onto a position that doesn’t disturb others. although this isn’t taught at all facilities, it is taught at most. Those who do not respect your space most likely do not have true service animals OR where never properly taught at their training facility, which then falls onto them and their training facility. Do not ever disrespect those with disabilities ever again, you are a very horrible person for this and if I didn’t have human decency this message would’ve contained many inappropriate terms and words to call you. Fix yourself before you wreck yourself even more, nobody is going to stand for your disrespectful acts towards those who can not control their disabilities. And to add onto that, you are also disrespecting your retired service members that gave you the country you have, so, be more respectful or stop flying, and help those with true service dogs bust those with fake, they would appreciate less yapping annoying dogs distracting their technically medical equipment, not dogs. So again, fix yourself, you’re disrespectful and a horrible human being.

  16. In response to the commenter suggesting passengers be required to show their handicap placard in order to bring their service animal on board, the placard is normally displayed in their vehicle parked at the airport in a handicapped spot, so that is not an option. Not sure where you live, but my state allows only one placard per handicapped person, and you must give them your old placard back when renewing it, can’t have two placards for the same person.

  17. I’m highly allergic to dogs and it’s getting harder not to sit next to someone’s canine — fake service animal or not. The discussion on this topic leaves out the fact that there are competing medical interests here.

  18. Reading some of the replies here makes me glad I’ve not flown domestically since before the pandemic. Internationally we seem to get fewer wackadoodles but some of you are the ones who perhaps should be caged.

    “My condition and needs, requires him to be “Off-leash”..” um what

    “Furthermore, it’s the small town Sheriff’s Offices that Violate my Rights more than anyone else..” um yes because leash laws?

  19. What is your answer? Stop all service dogs? The one belonging to the veteran who has suffered physical and mental pain? The blind teen who can now be independent? Or the diabetic whose animal can warn her of low sugar? The person with seizures who relies on his service animal for to make sure he is safe from falling or worse? Lobby for uniform, regulation service animal wearable identification and owner ID. You realize your preaching for YOUR special privileges? And I don’t give a hoot helping someone who needs it, paying a couple dollars more each for the seat/space. I do hope I never have to hear from someone like you when I fly.

  20. @Kayla
    You are soooooo wrong. Gary is 100% correct about these fake service animals. Maybe read what he wrote instead of crying for sympathy when you are missing the point.

  21. All I’ve got to say is if your fake service animal bites me, even a little bit, be ready to sign over all your money now and in the future.

  22. Plus one for Gary. I don’t disagree that people who have true needs should be able to have to have their service animals, but there should be higher levels of proof/documentation that these animals are medically required. It’s a very sad state of affairs, but too many people are simply taking advantage of the honor system.

  23. Southwest gets offended about a crying but it does nothing to stop all the people that fake a disability and seat on a WC in order to enter the plane first an grab a good seat without paying the fees Last time I flew with them I counted 47 ( plus their family members) Most of them walked off the plane with no issue once we got to our destination.

  24. I do not have a service animal. I fully support people who actually need a service animal. I don’t understand all the hate in the comments section. The author was complaining mostly about people who have “fake” service animals and the fact that the ADA forbids asking for proof of an animal’s actual status. Considering the impact on other travelers I don’t think it’s too much to ask that people have a document signed by a professional, third party individual stating that the animal is a service animal. The honor system no longer works in our country because so many (not all) people have been raised with a complete lack of accountability and a massive sense of entitlement

  25. Ah come on folks (many of you posting for the first time here), one can simultaneously support legit service dogs and their masters and despise those that just buy a vest for their pet. It is not the least bit discriminatory, hateful, etc. to expect a service dog to be trained not only in their primary service, but also to “stay in their space.”

    And, bringing up the “veteran card” is a red herring. The right of a person to a service animal is unaffected by their military service or lack thereof. “I know you need a service animal, but you can’t as you’re not a veteran,” and, “Because you’re a veteran, you can call your pet a service dog (wink, wink),” are two sentences no one should be allowed to say.

    Maybe the high toad folks?

  26. Honestly, for both people who agree with this post and people who don’t agree with this post, the latter of which are mostly people who have legitimate service animals, you seem to be forgetting one thing that might honestly make a lot of these issues disappear. A lot of this being an issue is solely because of Airlines trying to increase their profit margin by jamming as many seats as physically possible into a plane. For people who have service animals, please understand, people aren’t even happy with how close other people are to them. You know that the amount of space between each single passenger has been getting smaller and smaller over the past years. Therefore, it is going to be given that passengers are going to be upset when that little space between passengers is now being occupied by a dog. Essentially, everyone deserves to feel comfortable on a flight. Everyone is paying to use this service. There are still people with service animals who are not happy about how tight this space is for their dog to occupy. This is also partially the reason why, like one person mentioned above, people with service animals will often buy premium seats, to have the additional space. People are not saying that they don’t want service animals in public, with maybe the exception of fake service animals. People are tired of constantly losing the very little space that they have due to Airline policy. Stop taking your anger out on each other and start asking Airlines why airplane cabins don’t have more space so that people are allowed to spread out a bit more when seated and everyone can have personal space while also still having space for what or whoever they are carrying with them.

  27. Service dog or emotional support animals that are kept in a carrier should not be confused with animals kept on a leash and free to lay/sit in the cabin. Please make this distinction if you are going to continually beat your opinionated drum on this topic. Hint: 2 articles loathing this is enough.

  28. I am a dog breeder so I love dogs. But I recently flew on SWA in bulkhead row with man with large standard poodle at window seat, wife in middle row, me on aisle. Unless man has PTSD dog is not a service dog and was moving all over all seat areas, clearly not trained. There were at least 20 people who arrived in WC and only 3 who actually needed them. Once at gait most jumped up and walked all over terminal. One man was carrying his came. I walk with a walker from a stroke, nun had came, and another stayed in WC.
    When boarding called many supposedly needing WC, rushed the gate agent to board first. When the gate agent motioned to me. A woman pushed in front of me to board until the nun told her he meant me. This abuse is getting more prevalent. This needs to stop.

  29. Airlines used to allow enough space between seats that almost everyone… tall people, fat people, people who need a little extra baggage, people with animals, people with infants, people with disabilities, people who reclined… had room to stretch out, eat, work, be reasonably comfortable even in coach.

    Then people demanded cheaper and cheaper seats and the rewarded the airlines willing to sell them to them. Here we are now, passenger vs. Passenger.

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