ESA. Emotional support animals. So many things have been said and written about this topic. Conversations around those gaming the system as a way to not pay for traveling with their pets in the cabin has reached a fever pitch. As a former flight attendant, I assisted numerous passengers with disabilities who traveled with their service animals. These companions, life savers for many, provide an invaluable service. And as we know passengers with disabilities have the right to travel with their service animals who assist them with their daily needs. As for passengers with emotional needs, emotional support animals are a necessary companion to function in everyday situations. Let’s be clear: there is a distinction between service animals and emotional support animals. According the ada.gov site:
“Service animals are animals that are individually trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities such as guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling wheelchairs, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, or performing other special tasks. Service animals are working animals, not pets.”
According to Wikipedia, the definition of an emotional support animal states:
“An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit, such as alleviating or mitigating some symptoms of the disability, to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. Emotional support animals are typically dogs and cats, but may include other animals. In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal by a physician or other medical professional, the person seeking such an animal must have a verifiable disability.”
Back to the feeling amongst many that the emotional support animal situation is “getting out of hand.” Just today the following tweet was posted and has garnered lots of attention:
Things have gotten so far “out of hand” that Florida makes it a crime to register your dog as a service dog when in fact it is not. Those caught being dishonest are subject to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. This new law does not apply to those passengers traveling with emotional support animals.
Again, many things have been written and said about emotional support animals. One day, while facilitating a FA continuing qualification course (annual re-qualification class), the subject of emotional support animals came up. Some in the class had very strong feelings about those passengers who are dishonest with their pets. As the facilitator I remained neutral, allowed conversation to proceed, keep class on track with facts around passengers with disabilities and important it is for us to care for them. After some discussion, one of the FA in the class shared that her daughter travels with an emotional support animal. She also shared that hearing some of her colleagues speak in unkind terms about those with emotional support animals was appalling. You could have heard a pin drop.
As a matter of law, those traveling with disabilities, thank goodness, have rights governed by the Air Carrier Access Act. Legislation of this nature comes around because people with disabilities were not (and in certain circumstances, still not) being treated fairly with dignity and respect.
So, what is the “solution”? How do you determine who’s being dishonest? What impact does this have on those with a legitimate need to travel with an emotional support animal? Or should we just mind our own business?