AFA comments among 4,513 submitted to DOT on Emotional Support Animals

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Emotional Support Animals Negatively Affecting Air Travel

ANPRM and Interim Policy draw 4,513 comments

Many different perspectives

Difficult to Synthesize

AFA provides numbers and real experience

After a number of bizarre incidents in which passengers brought animals on board with them under the Emotional Support Animal designation, the US DOT Office issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) entitled– Traveling by Air With Service Animals  and a Interim Statement of Enforcement Priorities entitled– Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel.  In response to the ANPRM, 4,513 comments were filed; most of them submitted by individuals (a high percentage of the citizens sent their views anonymously).

Having reviewed 32 of the 91 pages listing the submissions, here are a sampling of comments filed by organizations [The DOT staff usually focus on the responses provided by representatives of multiple members and/or companies]:

Guide Dog Users of the Empire State

“…we believe that the Department of Transportation should regulate in a manner that respects the amount of training and care associated with service animals who assist people with disabilities and imposes as few barriers to travel as possible upon them. We urge the DOT to resolve   current ineffective policy structures perpetuating passengers posing their pets as service animals and to adopt realistic, effective policies protecting passengers traveling with service dogs, ESAs, and pets

Canadian National Institute for the Blind

We sincerely hope that the new ACAA does not include any extra requirements for people who use guide dogs such as producing documentation in advance of a flight or producing veterinary documentation. Since guide dog schools that are accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation have already met rigorous standards to graduate their dogs we believe that this accreditation should suffice.

 Service Dogs of Virginia

Service Dogs of Virginia agrees with the transportation industry and individuals with disabilities contacting DOT that the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation on the transportation of service animals should be amended to:

  • Ensure nondiscriminatory access for individuals with disabilities,
  • Prevent instances of fraud
  • Ensure consistency with other Federal regulations, specifically, the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Service Dogs of Virginia agrees with the DOT of the importance of:

  • Ensuring individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals
  • Fraudulent use of other animals not qualified as service animals is deterred
  • Animals not trained to behave properly in public are not accepted for transport as service animals.

American Psychological Association

1.As defined in the ACAA regulations, service animals (traditional and psychiatric) are trained to assist a person with a disability, physical or psychological, by performing a specific task(s) that mitigate the person’s disability. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, are not trained to assist an individual by performing a task but are purported to provide “emotional support” by their mere presence and proximity to the individual. A review of the relevant literature indicates that there is little, if any, scientific evidence to support that claim.

  1. Service animals are carefully selected based on their temperament and aptitude and trained to perform specific tasks to assist an individual with a disability. In addition, service animals undergo extensive training on interacting with both their handler and unfamiliar individuals in both private and public settings and contexts.
  2. Having an untrained, unvetted animal, such as a pet, serve as an emotional support animal can expose the animal to potential stressors including strangers, crowds, and confined spaces, which could negatively affect the animal’s well-being. 4. Untrained emotional support animals could potentially interfere with the functioning of a trained service animal, putting both the service animal as well as the individual with a disability at risk of harm. Thus, APA concurs with the Psychiatric Service Dog Society (PSDS) recommendation that DOT not equate psychiatric service animals to emotional support animals.

Paralyzed Veterans of America

The Department should amend its regulations to require air carriers to provide access to psychiatric service animals on the same basis as all other service animals. Carriers must not be permitted to require documentation or other notifications for psychiatric service animals that are not required for all other service animals. There is no legitimate reason to subject psychiatric service animal users to more stringent access requirements than other types of service animal 2 users. To do so only perpetuates the myth that psychiatric service animals are more likely to be dangerous or fraudulent than service animals used to mitigate other types of disabilities. It appears that one impetus for documentation and advance notification for psychiatric service animal users is the assertion that this is the only method available to the carriers to deter fraud. However, any discussion about fraudulent service animals should be addressed separately from a discussion about whether psychiatric service animal users should have to provide intrusive medical documentation and advance notice not required for other service animal users. The Department’s current treatment of psychiatric service animals singles out individuals with mental health disabilities for different treatment than people with other disabilities. Documentation and notification requirements are not silver bullets to allow carriers to predict an animal’s behavior. If they were, carriers would not be seeking revisions to the current policy. There will always be a requirement for carriers to evaluate an animal’s behavior and to take action as appropriate to deal with safety concerns. Individuals with disabilities who use service animals, regardless of their disability, must not be required to provide third-party medical documentation regarding their disability or their need for a service animal. Instead, carriers need to invest in training for their personnel and contractors to help them in interacting with passengers with disabilities who use any type of service animal. If there is a question as to whether an animal is a service animal, then the carrier should be allowed to ask the individual if the animal is a service animal required due to a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. If the person does not have a disability, then the inquiry can stop as the animal is not a service animal (or emotional support animal under the ACAA). If the person has a disability but cannot describe work or a task the animal has been specifically trained to perform, then the animal is also not a service animal.

Best Friends Animal Society

In America, responsible citizens should be allowed to travel with any breed of dog they choose. Likewise, responsible passengers with disabilities, who often spend a significant amount of time training and/or selecting a dog best suited to meet his or her individual needs, should not be penalized simply because of the size or breed of the dog. The short and long-term consequences of weight and/or size restrictions for service or emotional support animals can be devastating for the owner and the animal, causing an undue burden on travelers with disabilities that may last well beyond the dates of travel. In some cases, such a policy may restrict certain disabled passengers with limited modes of transportation from traveling at all. In other cases, the effect of such a policy may make an owner believe that he or she has no other choice but to abandon an animal. When reasonable alternatives that afford all passengers the benefits of travel by air, no owner should have to face this ultimatum based upon the misperceptions of others.

Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council

Whether the number of service animals/ emotional support animals should be limited per passenger? Yes, there should be a limit to the number of service / emotional support animals allowed to travel on an airline, with the exception of a documented need from a physician / healthcare professional stating clearly how the patient benefits from multiple service animals as well as the number required to fulfill those needs. True service animals may be difficult to limit the number per passenger. PSA’s and ESA’s should be limited to one.

Airlines for America, Regional Airline Association, and International Air Transport Association


Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO (TWU).

Safety Concerns of Large ESAs DOT should make clear that if large ESAs impede safety of flight rules, the user must agree to an alternative option that eliminates safety concerns. Regardless of the size of the animal, we believe DOT must continue to prioritize safety of flight rules that protect all those traveling on an aircraft. This includes prohibiting ESAs from sitting in aisle or emergency seats and from blocking egress in any way. Should an emergency occur, flight attendants and passengers must have immediate and unblocked access to emergency routes as needed to save lives. Should a flight attendant identify that the position of an ESA would prevent such access, the user must agree to an alterative option that resolves the placement issue

 The Ability Center of Greater Toledo

For this reason, the Department of Justice’s Americans with Disabilities Act requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. Service animals are considered to be one of these such reasonable modifications.

Blinded Veterans Association

In conclusion, we believe that the Department of Transportation should regulate in a manner that respects the amount of training and care associated with service animals who assist people with disabilities and impose as few barriers to travel as possible. However, we also urge the department to help resolve the confusion that surrounds the access rights of animals and discourages those who might take advantage of that confusion by fraudulently representing pets as service or emotional support animals.

Transportation Trades Department

Finally, we urge DOT to require that all service animals brought through the airport and on board are either harnessed or tethered in such a way that an owner can maintain control of the animal in any circumstances. Service animals who are not restrained in this manner can pose a threat to airport workers, flight crews, and other passengers if they behave poorly and cannot be quickly corralled. Requiring that animals be tethered is a common sense, low-burden requirement with significant positive improvements for safety. We also urge DOT to require that ESAs must be secured in an animal carrier or kennel throughout the duration of a flight. This is to help ensure the safety and health of all passengers, flight attendants, and service animals on board.

American Council of the Blind

Should ESAs be contained in a carrier during the flight?  The crating of animals is necessary when such animals exhibit behavior that is threatening or erratic in a manner that could cause conflict, or when certain attributes of the animal create some level of risk. The question of whether an animal should be held in a crate should be weighed against such actual and potential risks. Even when a SA crosses the threshold spelled out in ADA and ACAA guidance, such as excessive barking or hostile behavior, then that animal’s protections under law are essentially put on hold. Therefore, the question of “to crate, or not to crate” is contingent on the expectation that an ESA shall meet certain behavioral standards in places of public accommodation. If such rules governing ESA are moved forward, then there is less concern or need for crating of such animals.

 Disability and Communications Access Board


Because the ADA distinguishes between a psychiatric service animal (PSA) and an emotional support animal (ESA) we recommend retaining that distinction for the purposes of a definition only. If the person’s psychiatric diagnosis/diagnoses per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV results in a disability and the animal has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks directly related to the person’s disability, it is classified as PSA under the ADA. If the animal is not trained to perform a task, then it is classified as an ESA under the ADA. We recommend the same distinction for uniformity under the AGAA. Including ESAs under the definition of. service animals would only muddy the water for the consumer. It is most critical that the federal agencies utilize the same definition of service animal across statutes



I am a service dog trainer of 24 years. There NEEDS to be stricter laws when in comes to traveling with service animals. My job has become much harder to do with all the fake service dogs everywhere and on the planes. With the internet, it is now easy to purchase a letter from a doctor and a service dog vest for as little as $100. If you shut down ESA dogs, those people will just buy a service dog vest. I don’t know how you are going to combat this. I think if the dog is showing ANY aggression or is not walking nice on the leash or is ill behaved, it should be banned from the plane. There is a public access test that a lot of private trainers (like myself) are using, maybe you need to see a copy of that? Over all, the rules for service dogs need to be stricter, but I am very happy there is change for the planes.

Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council

The Department of Transportation should eliminate Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) in its definition of a service animal under the ACAA. ESAs are not recognized as service animals in regulations implementing the ADA. ESAs are not trained to perform a specific active function or behave appropriately under in-flight conditions.  We believe this to be the most widely abused portion of the DOT regulation and that placing an untrained animal in such a situation creates an unnecessary risk to the welfare of the flying public and the animal itself.


  1. Containment of Emotional Support Animals

If DOT adopts a rule that continues to require that ESAs be accepted for transport in the aircraft cabin, the DOT should allow airlines to require that ESAs be in carriers for the duration of a flight. As previously stated, we believe that ESAs create an unnecessary risk and anything that can be done to protect the animal or fliers from injury is justified.


  1. Species Limitations

PIJAC agrees with all major stakeholders that limiting the types of species recognized as service animals would provide greater predictability and prevent the erosion of the public’s trust which could reduce access for individuals with disabilities. While we do not agree that the Department should limit coverage of service animals to dogs, we do believe that it should be an animal that is appropriate to the disability and can be trained to behave appropriately in the aircraft.

PIJAC does not consider capuchin monkeys or miniature horses to be appropriate pets, so we defer to those with expertise in their behavior and training as service animals on their use.

Assistance Dogs International

Ensure nondiscriminatory access for individuals with disabilities,

  • Prevent instances of fraud
  • Ensure consistency with other Federal regulations, specifically, the Americans With Disabilities Act. ADI, NA agrees with the DOT of the importance of:
  • Ensuring individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals
  • Fraudulent use of other animals not qualified as service animals is deterred
  • Animals not trained to behave properly in public are not accepted for transport as service animals.

Emotional Support Animals

– Species Limitation and Containment ADI, NA agrees with the airline in opposing recognition of Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) in the ACAA context because they do not have training in public behavior. Because of this:

  • ESAs pose a potential threat of disruption or harm to passengers, crew and legitimate service animals
  • ESAs can suffer stress from being in. the environment of air travel stemming from: o Exposure to crowds at airports o Confinement to a carrier for an extended period of time o Changes in air pressure, altitude, vibrations and noise associated with air travel ADI, NA agrees with the proposal of air carriers of eliminating access for ESAs

ADI, NA agrees with airlines and flight attendants that should ESAs continue to have access, ESA species should be limited to dogs and cats because it is difficult to enforce a rule that ESAs be allowed to be outside of their carriers when providing disability mitigation because that would require a subject assessment by flight attendants.

The range of opinions [this is a small, small sampling of all of the documents filed] provide the DOT staff an impossible task to define a right answer or even a consensus. It is fair to suppose that the DOT will give special weight to the mean and women who have to deal with ESAs in the difficult environment of an airplane filled with passengers. To add to their experience with the problem, AFA provided a survey which quantifies the frequency of occurrences:

…the union revealed that 61 percent of nearly 5,000 flight attendants across 30 airlines reported working a flight where an emotional support animal caused a disruption in the cabin.

What’s more, 53 percent of those reported incidents included aggressive or threatening behavior by the animal, including a dog snapping at a flight attendant’s heel and another biting a flight attendant as they attempted to set a beverage on the tray table.

There were also reports of emotional support animals barking, snapping and lunging at crew members and passengers, sometimes children.

Meanwhile, 43 percent of the disruptions included animals failing to fit in their designated space, roaming around the cabin and causing annoyance by barking throughout the flight.

Multiple flight attendants said they’ve seen animals get loose after their owner fell asleep.

One-quarter of the incidents involved animals defecating or urinating in the cabin. One respondent described an event in which an animal had extreme diarrhea on their owner’s lap in a center seat, leaving both passengers on either side covered in feces.

Animals identified in the survey responses were mainly dogs and cats but also included birds, rodents, pigs and reptiles.

“The rampant abuse of claiming a need for emotional support animals in air travel is negatively impacting all passengers. It’s a safety, health, and security issue,” said AFA president Sara Nelson in a statement accompanying the survey results.

Eight out of 10 flight attendants (82 percent) said they strongly believe a consistent policy throughout the airline industry is necessary to improve conditions for all crew members and passengers, including those who legitimately require an emotional support animal to travel.”

The union submitted very cogent comments (7 pages) which will be closely reviewed by the staff.

The NPRM, as crafted by the DOT staff[1] will reflect all of the input and must balance the strong policy considerations of the ADA/ACAA against the concerns for the safety of passengers and the cabin crew.



[1] The DOT would probably like to send the consideration of the conflicting views to an Aviation Regulatory Committee but based on based ARC decisions would be to NOAH avail,


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