Animal Air Travel: From Service to Emotional Support

If you’ve spent much time in an airport lately, you’ve likely seen an increase in the number of animals traveling. More specifically, you’ve seen them on your flight. As in- sitting in the seat next to you or down by your feet! Animal airline travel is a growing trend worldwide. Of course, people have always enjoyed traveling with their animals; however, now thanks to some cleaver online certification websites, more and more pets seem to be “needed” on planes.

For those of you who’ve somehow missed this travel movement, let me fill you in. First, you need to know the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. Katie of Fleming Family Therapy does a great job separating the differences here. When it comes to travel, Service Animals are almost always permitted. As far as I know, no one has a problem with these animals. They are working animals trained to perform tasks to keep their owner safe.

On the other hand, the definition of an emotional support animal is a tad more vague. Of course for certain individuals and in specific situations, these animals are extremely necessary. However, determining the need and regulating this is causing some major problems for airlines. Most airlines charge between $75 and $125 each way for pets to fly. There are also stricter rules for flying with a pet vs an emotional support animal. Often pets must stay inside their crate during a flight while emotional support animals are free to sit in a lap.

I certainly don’t want to discredit the real and legitimate need for animal airline travel, but there appears to be a lot of abuse taking place. Unfortunately websites are currently selling certificates and vests verifying that your animal is for emotional support. Again, I believe this is absolutely a real issue for some individuals. However, I also believe the situation is becoming abusive. As Katie states in her article, “When you abuse these laws, you are actually making it harder for those individuals with disabilities who need their service dog or ESA by their side get the respect and accommodations they deserve.”

On the complete other end of the spectrum, you also have groups of people who would rather not fly with animals. For example, many people are allergic to animal hair. Similarly, there are individuals with legitimate fear of animals. Although airlines do not allow snakes or spiders, there are some unusual animals registered for emotional support. Recently passengers found themselves flying next to a pig! Especially when you consider the price of an airline ticket, it’s not always ideal to fly with an animal in your space.

What are your thoughts? Should airlines get stricter with the rules? Or should they relax them?  

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