Now on the no-fly list: Emotional support animals


Harrison Medow, Staff Writer

After a surplus of people began to abuse the status of having emotional support animals in order to bring their pets with them in the aircraft cabin, Spirit, JetBlue, Alaska, United and Southwest Airlines have taken action. 

Several airlines are putting it in writing that unless the animal is approved as a service dog, then people are not allowed to bring them into the passenger area and the pet will have to travel alongside the cargo. Furthemore, since Jan. 11, Alaska Airlines is only granting access to animals that are competent and are disciplined enough to do a certain job, skill or task. According to USA Today, United Airlines policy claims that emotional support animals will be treated as normal pets, but they are prone to getting charged a $125 fee based on their size and their weight. On Southwest Airlines, the animal must be placed under the seat or in front of the customer at all times and they also have to behave while they are on the airplane. On Spirit Airlines, service animals and animals with emotional care are entitled to sit on your lap, provided the animal is “no bigger than a lap child.” However, if you carry the animal in your lap, since it can be dangerous for the animal, you should not ride in a seat with an inflatable seatbelt. JetBlue allows one emotional service animal per client, and the animal must be evaluated by a JetBlue crewmember as being suitable for air travel at the airport. They also must have proper documentation.

Before the enactment of new policies regarding the boarding of emotional support dogs, airlines allowed both service dogs and emotional support dogs to travel with people above the cargo. Pets are usually put in a separate area near the cargo of the plane during the flight. Kept in cages alongside other animals, some owners get worried about their pets. Yet, pets that have the certificate of being either a service dog or emotional support dog have been able to fly with their owners in the seat next to them. 

According to USA Today, it is illegal for airlines to charge for a fee for people that are bringing a guide dog or a service dog onto a plane. Airlines are specifically targeting emotional support dogs because service dogs are typically used to aid people with certain types of disabilities and to perform vital jobs to ensure the safety of their owner. For instance, service dogs can be used for psychiatric issues, blindness, deafness and more. When a person has a seizure, for example, they begin to get flustered and they may put their head in between their legs. The dog will start to get peoples’ attention by barking, and they will also put their paws on the person’s chest. They can also activate an alarm if the person has one. 

The difference with emotional support animals is that they are used as therapeutic resources for people with emotional problems, according to TherapyDogs. This includes but is not limited to depression, anxiety, phobias and PTSD. Emotional support animals serve as sources of comfort and company but don’t have to perform a specific job like service dogs do. Pets and emotional support animals are also able to provide support and comfort to people especially those people that are dealing with a form of trauma. Despite this, many pet owners will now have to pay the cargo fee or switch airlines to get these pets onboard.