Smart Travel

What You Need To Know About Emotional Support Animals On Airplanes

Hello, fellow travelers!

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about emotional support animals (ESAs), and I’m sure you have, too. As an avid traveler and animal-lover, I can’t help but feel that this issue is begging for some much-needed discussion. The current laws set in place for traveling with emotional support animals are far too lax.

The Current Law

Currently, most airlines allow ESAs to accompany you on a flight with documentation stating that you: 1. Have a mental illness 2. Need your pet for emotional support, as prescribed by a physician or mental health professional. You do not need to register your pet and you do not need to train your pet. In fact, your current pet can be deemed your emotional support animal, as long as a mental health professional agrees.

An ESA doesn’t have to be a dog, either. Believe it or not, recent reports of emotionally supportive hamsters, peacocks, turkeys and ducks have been circulating the internet. So where does it stop? According to several airlines, they draw the line at snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders.

The Problem

My concern is that there is a lot of confusion going around regarding which animals are allowed on planes, and which animals are not. Also, having potentially untrained animals in high-stress situations is asking for trouble.

Let’s look at this from the view of an ESA owner: Say your emotional support dog is usually well-behaved, but bites a toddler’s wrist on a flight after the child reaches through your arm rest. The bite didn’t break skin, but the child is hysterical, the parents are angry and nearby passengers are startled. What now? Your dog isn’t trained, but the airline allowed him on the flight. Who is responsible?

How about from the view of an airplane passenger: You are traveling to visit family and are sitting on a flight next to a woman and her emotional support duck. The duck is loud, and very interested in your trail mix. The woman apologizes for the inconvenience, but does little to keep her duck out of your business. The duck is now beak-deep in your snack bag. Do you say anything?

This Really Happened

Or, let’s take a real life example and consider what this means for an ESA: An ESA hamster was brought to the airport. The owner reminder the Spirit Airlines employee that she was bringing her pet on the flight. The employee allegedly told the pet owner that rodents are not allowed on the plane, and that she should flush the hamster down the airport toilet. According to the owner, she called Spirit Airlines to verify that her hamster could board the plane, only to be told otherwise upon arrival. Consequently, this hamster was killed due to a miscommunication between owner and airline company. How can we be sure this won’t happen again?

My Opinion

Situations like these have lawsuit written all over them, and airlines are working diligently to improve their ESA guidelines to prevent confusion. But what about the laws that allow any animal to be an ESA? In my opinion, the laws for ESAs are too vague, leaving a lot of decision making to the owner and the mental health professional. Most of all, I’m shocked that a mental health professional would sign-off on an emotionally supportive peacock, but I don’t know the full story.

How would you feel about sitting next to an ESA on your next flight? What about ESAs in restaurants? Would you share a plate of fries with an emotionally supportive turkey in the booth next to you at Chili’s?

To read more about what others have to say, check out this article on USA Today.

Thanks for reading,



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