Sunday, December 6, 2020

Non-Traditional Emotional Comfort Animals have Entered the No-Fly Zone

We live in a time of Covid-19 stress. Traveling, especially flying, is extra-stressful this year, calling out for comfort and support. Your seatmate may be loud, noisy, contagious and/or oafish. Sitting next to someone with a mask off or only on below the nose is concerning and even threatening. A cough, a sneeze, even a hoarse voice triggers anxiety. Wouldn’t it be less stressful if you were sitting next to your loved one or other family members? If not, why not a comfort pet, be it an alligator, appaloosa horse, cat, chicken, dog, duck, falcon, gliding possum, goat, goose, hen, kangaroo, llama, lobster, monkey, a pair of penguins, peacock in full plumage, pit bull (not on Delta), pony, snake, squirrel, rabbit, rooster, tortoise, or even turkey? A veritable menagerie have flown as emotional support animals; airlines have been flying hundreds of thousands emotional support animals often to the consternation of flight attendants and passengers. Delta flew about 250,000 in 2017 and 600,000 in 2019. The emotionally supported passengers may be comforted, but the other passengers may be less enthusiastic about flying with Confetti the Appaloosa Horse, Daniel the Support Duck, Dexter the Peacock, Dinnah the Lobster, Flirty the Pony, Gizmo the Monkey, Hamlet the Beach Hog, or the Easter turkey. The emotional support animals have become increasingly disruptive. Your human seatmate may be well-behaved, but dogs have defecated in passenger seats and pigs in the aisle. Some of the emotional support animals bite. Passengers may be allergic to cat and dog hair. United Airlines moved a passenger off a plane and rebooked here because she was allergic to a comfort cat a few seats away. Many people have a legitimate need for emotional comfort animals, but the time and place should not be on a commercial airline. They have created too many problems. Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants, said: “Passengers claiming pets as emotional support animals have threatened the safety and health of passengers and crews in recent years.… Flight attendants have been hurt and safety has been compromised by untrained animals loose in the cabin.” The Department of Transportation last Wednesday issued a new rule, Traveling by Air with Service Animals. It reversed an earlier rule requiring airlines to allow emotional support dogs to be flown with passengers who have doctor’s note saying they needed the animal for emotional support. Airlines will no longer be required to “”recognize emotional support animals as service animals….” The DOT’s new regulations essentially limit the traveling pets to the traditional service dogs. A service animal is defined as “a dog, regardless of type or breed, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Psychiatric support dogs will be treated as service dogs with documentation provided to the FAA. The airlines can now require the dogs to be leashed and can bar dogs showing aggressive behavior. They can also require paperwork 48 hours in advance of the flight. The agency justified the revised rules because the passengers carrying the unusual animals “eroded the public trust in legitimate service dogs” as well as increasing misbehavior by the animals. Another reason is the increasing number of passengers abused the existing rule “by fraudulently representing their pets as service animals” to avoid paying a fee to transport the animals. Passengers with support animals can still fly their pets, but they will have to be checked into the cargo hold and pay a fee.

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