U.S. Department Of Transportation Considers Rewriting The Rules For Emotional Support Animals Amid Widespread Fraud

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After seeing more and more exotic ‘Emotional Support Animals‘ such as roosters, turkeys and pigs, U.S. transportation officials seem to be at the point where they are considering rewriting the rules.

People increasingly use the regulation that was originally deigned to help those with a serious disability to ferry their exotic pets around free of charge, inconveniencing other travelers and making a mockery of the law.

On top of it all such fraudulent behavior does a huge disservice to the seriously ill and disabled as it puts all support animal owners under a blanket of suspicion.

John wrote an article about it some time ago when someone took the featured rooster on board (see here). Have Americans now pushed the envelope too far that authorities feel compelled to act?

There was an interesting article in the Detroit Free Press today (access here) about the topic.

With the holiday travel season now here, many air passengers are boarding the plane with service dogs and emotional support animals — a practice that critics say is open to fraud. …

How do airlines know whether these pets are true service animals and not impostors wearing an official-looking vest bought online for $39.99? The answer is, they don’t. Critics say many travelers claim their pets are service or emotional support animals because they don’t want to pay for them to travel.

While many of these animals are dogs, passengers have also gotten on board with birds, including a peacock, cats and other animals.

“I see more violations than legitimate use of service dogs in public. A drastic majority of what I’ve observed in airports is misuse of the service dog law,” said Brian Skewis, executive officer of the California State Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind. …

Like dogs, miniature horses can be trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, according to the ADA. They can be used as guides for blind people or to pull wheelchairs. These animals, which can be house-trained, typically range in height from 24 to 34 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 70 to 100 pounds. Businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and other entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable.

A DOT spokesperson said the department is now considering rewriting the rules for service and emotional support animals on its own, but a timetable has not been set.

DOT said the rules would “address the concerns that have been raised with the department regarding the definition of a service animal” under federal law, and “instances of passengers falsely representing that their pets are service animals in order to avoid pet fees that airlines may charge for pets to travel in the aircraft cabin.”

DOT said U.S. carriers are required under the Air Carrier Access Act to transport all service and emotional support animals with a few exceptions, such as snakes, ferrets, rodents and spiders. Airlines must evaluate unusual animals such as the miniature horses, pigs and monkeys on a case-by-case basis. A single passenger can have two or more service animals.

Among the service and emotional support animals prohibited by Delta Air Lines, the largest carrier at Detroit Metro Airport, are hedgehogs and farm poultry such as chickens or turkeys.

Since when does Delta prohibit Turkeys? Roughly a year ago this was apparently permissible as this article shows I wrote back then when a lady took Mr. Gobble out for a ride.

In any case, tightening regulations is overdue. The law is way too generous and has multiple loopholes that allows rampant fraud to be the normality rather than the exception.


This is a delicate problem that so far nobody was willing to tackle to avoid offending anyone. It’s a good thing that the U.S. makes special provisions for people with disabilities but they shot well above the target so to speak. Where is the public good being considered when someone is allowed to bring two or more farm animals onto an aircraft?

What about my rights and well being as a passenger who is being impacted by such a disgrace? Real service animals are well behaved and properly trained. They never bother a single soul. Can you say the same about a Rooster or Turkey? What do you guys think about this topic? Please share your comments below!

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  • Flyboy

    Wait until Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons come onboard.

    • Chris

      Yes, I’m looking forward to that! And then, I want to see the comments here.

  • rdrago43

    Completely agree with you @Sebastian on this issue. In addition to airplanes, the same abuse happens with restaurants, hotels, etc.

    While you mention farm animals, the predominant abuse I see are with lapdogs and cats. At a particular Marriott I stay at frequently, the staff have told me of numerous times where they’ve had to call in professional cleaning services because a ‘service’ animal had an accident in the room. Anyone that knows anything about properly trained service animals is they’re trained not to have accidents (although anything is a possibility), but, this Marriott staff says it happens all too often.

    What frustrates them(Marriott staff) is they’ve been ordered that they cannot question whether an animal is a service animal or not.

    • Chris

      Nonsense. Look at the ADA rules. But whining together (with Marriott staff) is so much fun, isn’t it?

      • rdrago43

        @Chris – Nonsense? I’ve personally seen at this Marriott numerous lapdogs and cats (if you didn’t know, primary Marriott hotels do not allow pets) at the hotel. But because all these people claim their animals are service animals, they cannot be denied.

        So either clarify your retort or are you just ‘snarking’?

        • Chris

          Well, I know that there are these whinings coming from some staff members at hotels, and in my opinion these people fail at their jobs. If a dog has an accident, they need to clean it, and it is in general not a big deal. In addition, they can charge the guest for the costs – no matter whether it’s a service dog or not. Same counts for people with kids who like to discard their pizza on the carpet or drunken guys who like to throw up in their room. It’s all covered for the hotel, and it doesn’t affect you. In the end, it would be better if Marriott would change their policy and allow pets – in special rooms and without charging a fortune in fees – so that guests can legitimately bring their pets along.

          • rdrago43

            First – I’m all for REAL service animals. I get from your posts your hostility (which btw, doesn’t help your arguments).

            The issue is when people pass off NON service animals as the real thing, which hurts the case of real situations of people that have them.

            As for people bringing pets along, there is a reason certain hotels don’t allow pets, such as the ‘accidents’, which aren’t always detected easily by housekeeping (such as a cat pissing on the carpet behind the sofa).

            And speaking as someone who suffers from cat allergies, I had the unfortunate experience of whomever sneaked in a cat into the hotel room before me without the hotel’s permission. Within an hour, I was breaking out in a rash.

            So, if you really want to advocate for people that have a need for REAL service animals, lose the attitude and come up with some constructive suggestions/comments instead of coming across as a jerk.

          • Chris

            The ADA regulations revised in 2011 allow only dogs as service animals and with different regulations now also miniature horses, but not cats. The hotel is in no way obliged to host guests with “service cats”. However, if someone “sneaks a cat” into a hotel, that doesn’t have anything to do with this discussion about service animals here. Some hotels have special rooms for people with allergies, and most hotels have special rooms for people with pets, so that guests with allergies like you are not affected.

        • Chris

          addendum 1: “Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform.”
          addendum 2: “A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken.”
          see https://www.ada.gov/service_animals_2010.htm

  • masimons

    With after Christmas flight ORD-SAN having full grown German Shepard, bull mastiff, and two poodles, really need method to authenticate service dogs versus pets. The poodle in F was whining the last hour cause he needed to “go”.

    • Chris

      How do you know he “needed to go”? I have spent hours on long distance flights with babies just continuously crying. I don’t think this was because they “needed to go”. Would you prefer a crying baby over a whining poodle?

  • davidehi1

    I recently got off an flight where two young women brought on a rather large “service” dog. I was behind them as we departed the plane and almost as soon as we got off they were laughing and joking about how they had “pulled it off”, i.e, taken their dog on the flight, in the cabin, for free. I have seen this happen countless times over the last few years. This is no joke, it is real fraud and should be stopped. I support the legitimate use of service animals but this fraud has gotten way out of hand.

  • Gary

    Seems that little Sebastian is gauging how many compensation miles he can get from the airlines when it happens on one of his flights. 10,000? 100,000? 1M?

  • Richie

    My wife and I have a professionally trained German Shepherd dog that is our pet. What I would like to see is some sort of voluntary program from the airlines that lets me, even for a fee, “prove” that my dog is up to the standard of behavior we would all expect an animal (or person for that matter) to have when in a flight. It’s very frustrating having a dog that we have put the time and effort into having be better behaved than some adults or children and not be able to reasonably buy him a ticket and bring him on a trip with us. We’ve never lied about him being a service dog and thus have never taken him on a flight. Cost aside the process of flying with your pet is not very customer friendly, and living closest to a regional airport it really isn’t even possible. The airlines lack of a reasonable way for people to bring animals along is what caused this mess to begin with.

    • Cleveratti

      I agree. If a dog is well behaved and trained, there should be no reason for the owners to not be allowed to board with their dog. Some dogs are better behaved than children and adults. But anyway, restricting boarding to well behaved pets and service animals will solve a lot of these fraudulent activities. If a dog is aggressive or hyperactive, it’s simply not allowed on board. Most service animals are trained and well behaved. A lot of pets are not. Problem solved.

      • Karma

        Who is going to determine that a pet is well behaved?

    • Karma

      That is not the point. It isn’t about behavior. It is about the need for the service dog team to be together. Why is it when the disabled are accommodated, able body people feel that they deserve the same consideration?

    • Chris

      You should be able to fly your dog as “baggage”, if possible, or if that doesn’t work, as cargo. I used to do this with my dogs (I used to have a Rottie and two Chi-Xs). We flew several times from North-America to Europe, and never had any issues. It can be expensive though, with three of them – but everything is expensive with three dogs 😉

  • Nevsky2

    In addition to tightening the definition of service animal and how they are certified, some changes need to be made to protect allergic passengers, including passengers who may be on subsequent flights hours, if not days or months after a flight with a service animal. The hair and dander and even saliva can remain on carpets and seats for a long time after a flight and can severely affect the allergic, including their breathing, which is perhaps the most essential life function. Accordingly, this must be considered in any policies.

    That is why service animals (especially dogs and cats) on flights should be minimized to the maximum extent possible, while only being allowed for those who truly need one for an essential life function that will be necessary on that flight. Accordingly, a service animal that is trained to get help in the case of an emergency is not needed on a flight when there are lots of other people on the flight or at an airport that can summon help if needed.

    Still there will be some cases where a service animal may be essential for an essential life function and most of those cases would involve the blind and seeing eye dogs. In cases where a service animal is essential, there should be designated (and relatively small, as there should never be too many animals on one flight) seating areas in each class (similar to the old smoking sections) where the animals can stay. This way more attention could be paid to cleaning those areas (although even the best cleaning can leave some allergens behind). Also, the allergens in other areas of the plane would be greatly reduced.

    Further, animals should not be allowed on seats. The way things are today a person with a “service animal” can (and do) let their animals on a seat and on a subsequent flight an allergic person may sit in that seat and may not only have an allergic reaction at that time, but is likely to pick up the allergen on their clothes which they will then bring home with them and get in their homes. This is very dangerous for the very allergic.

    In addition, towels or plastic should be placed on the floor where a service animal sits to avoid leaving hair and dander behind.

    People who are not allergic do not think of the implications on later flights of bringing a “pet” on board.

    • Karma

      It has been shown that having a service dog in the environment does not contribute to allergies. They took dander levels in homes that had never been occupied by a dog and had registered high levels of dander. The person who is allergic is at greater risk sitting next to a passenger who spent the night before rolling around with his dog. His pants will be covered with contaminants. Service dogs who quietly lay down are not spreading dead skin cells. By the way, the ADA has already addressed the concerns of allergy and fear of dogs. It says that these two situations cannot override the right of the disabled person. What you all don’ t get is that a service animal is like medical equipment. It is not a nice cuddling convenience.

      • Nevsky2

        First, it may have been shown in some cases, but definitely not in all. Also, that same person with a service animal might have dander, hair and saliva all over them. Also, the ADA created the current mess so it obviously was not thought out well. Fourth, those who make these comments have probably never had a bad allergy attack. Yes, it is a balancing act, but very few of those with service animals today really need them to survive a flight, if need them at all, other than they just want to be with their pet.

        • Karma

          Your comment shows me that you know nothing about service animals. You cannot look at a service animal and ascertain its function. So your observation that most people don’t need service dogs is naive and ignorant. How would you know that a service dog may alert for impending seizures? Exactly how would you know that?

          • Nevsky2

            First I did not say that most people do not need service dogs. It is the many people who are abusing the system who do not, and, in particular, many of which (dogs or other animals) are not trained and certified. I did say it is a balancing act. I also said “minimized to the maximum extent possible, while only being allowed for those who truly need one for an essential life function that will be necessary on that flight”. Of course to the extent an animal can prevent injury or let someone know of an upcoming seizure, it should be allowed. In fact, I just recently made a contribution to an epilepsy foundation so I understand your position.

            The problem for all of us are the abusers. Not only in airports, but I was once walking down the street and heard someone brag to his friend how he got his pet on board by claiming it was a service animal.

            The point is a reasonable balance can and should be made. It is the same thing with free speech. Maybe there is a constitutional right to free speech but there are certain things one should not say in an airport.

          • Karma

            A real service dog is not on the plane to perform a particular skill. Service dog teams spend 24 hours a day together for a reason. It enhances the bond and understanding so even if a service dog is not on there for seizure alert or something acute, they must accompany their teammate at all times. I have a mobility service dog and we are together always. What makes this relationship unique is that the dog does not just act on command but they anticipate your needs. To accomplish this unique skill requires 24 hour a day connection.

          • Nevsky2

            And other people need to breath 24 hours a day. It is a balancing act. Unfortunately the allergic are the ones who are losing these days.

          • Chris

            I seriously doubt that you have allergy problems. If, then you would know that people react allergic to dog hair, on touch, not their saliva or dandruff. So, do not touch. And, take allergy medication with you. Period.

          • Nevsky2

            You seem to have no knowledge about medicine or allergies. Please do some research in order to add constructive comments. Thank you.

          • Chris

            Well, I did. And it is common knowledge that people react to DOG HAIR and CAT DANDRUFF (apart from the fact that people can develop allergic reactions to almost anything). I personally know several people who are allergic to dogs to varying degrees. However, as long as they do not touch a dog, they are okay. And, there is allergy medication, too. People with allergies can always inform the airline ahead of time and request not to be seated close to an animal. They have a right to do this and the airline will comply. People like you do not seem to be aware of this and start an unnecessary rant against service animals. On the other hand, I also met people who claim to be allergic to dogs but, in fact, say this for other reasons. Starting from being simply afraid of dogs but not wanting to admit it, to more serious cases of guests who try to rip off hotels or other businesses by making false claims of allergic reactions. And, let’s face it, there are so many more people allergic to pollen than to dogs, does that mean we have to rip out all kinds of trees and bushes to help those unfortunate allergics? Nobody would ever suggest that. I don’t really know what your problems is, but, again, I seriously doubt that you’re allergic to dogs.

          • Nevsky2

            Not only is almost everything you said factually incorrect, I just got off a plane where there was a lap dog in the seat right next to me. I asked to be moved but they only could get a seat across the aisle. The seat with the dog now has dog hair and dander all over it for the next passenger to get on their clothes and breathe.

          • Chris

            And you asked to be moved … why? What was the reason? If you are allergic, let the airline know BEFORE you fly, so that they can accommodate you accordingly. But, again, if you were really allergic, the FAs would have asked a passenger further away to swap seats with you.

          • Chris

            And you asked to be moved … why? What was the reason? If you are allergic, let the airline know BEFORE you fly, so that they can accommodate you accordingly. But, again, if you were really allergic, the FAs would have asked a passenger further away to swap seats with you.

          • Natasha

            My husband and I have severe animal allergies. We cannot visit close family members at home who feel that putting their animals into a nearby closed room should be sufficient to accommodate us. I guarantee that I do not need to directly touch a cat in order to have an asthma attack or to feel my throat close and my eyes swell. A flight for us, sharing air with a cat, is a flight from hell, with the days that follow ruined. Not all people tolerate allergy medicine or find it to be effective. I have a great respect for service animals and the people who use them. Perhaps airlines should begin to offer a certain number of animal-free flights. I have the right to my health.

          • Chris

            Again, people are typically reacting to dog hair on touch and to the dandruff of cats, which can be anywhere. However, the likelihood that a cat travels on the plane is small – and if so, then probably not as a service animal or ESA but as a household pet. Disabilities have a higher priority than allergies, as far as airline travel is concerned. But, if you get in touch with the airline you plan to fly with, I am sure they will try to accommodate you, and maybe rebook you for free, in case a cat is on the flight. I do not know whether severe allergies can officially be considered a disability; you may consult a medical expert to see what they say, and to get medication that works for you. Not being able to visit family is, in my point of view, far more relevant than airline travel, where the likelihood of being with a cat is relatively small.

        • Chris

          What a nonsense. So you want to ban all pet owners from flights or what? Regarding your comment on survival: that is extremely rude. You don’t really need to fly to survive, so why don’t you just stay home?

    • Chris

      You need a reality check, my friend. Your post is so uninformed, that I don’t even know to which faulty note to respond. Animals never sit on seats, passengers with allergies will be seated far away from the respective animal, and I don’t know how many service animals you have ever seen on a single air plane but I guess none. Please, inform yourself before posting or do not post at all.

  • SydneySwan

    I have only ever seen animals in the cabin on flights within the US. Everywhere else seems to cope with the animals travelling in the hold. It is time the US caught up with the rest of the world.

    • Chris

      Wrong! The USA is more advanced than all other countries regarding rights of disabled people (after so many Veterans were let down after Vietnam, things fortunately changed). Fortunately, European countries are catching up (slowly) and realize that there are other kinds of service animals, not only guide dogs for the blind. But, according to you, we should just let the blind stumble around and find their way to the air plane without their dogs. Right? Or, better, just let them stay at home.

      • SydneySwan

        ‘But, according to you, we should just let the blind stumble around and find their way to the air plane without their dogs. Right? Or, better, just let them stay at home.’ Did I say that? I don’t think so.

  • Ladycadmir

    I have a trained service dog & have taken her on several flights with no issues, however on 1 flight with 2 scheduled stops we shared the flight with another person & their dog. We were seated 2 rows apart. This other dog did nothing but bark, growl & strain on its lead trying to get to my dog once we were in the air. The dog’s handler made no attempt to correct the dog.
    At our first stop, they were removed based on the dog’s behavior.
    Another passenger was extremely vocal that I was allowed to remain on board & continue on with the flight.
    An attendant tried to explained my service dog behaved properly for a service dog. She never barked, growled or reacted in any way to the other dog. She remained quite at my feet the entire time. She needed no corrective direction from me.
    He didn’t think it fair. She explained it had nothing to do with fair, it was based solely on the animals behavior & the handler’so failure to take action.
    The airline as with any business was within their rights to remove this person & their dog because the dog was disruptive & the owner did nothing to correct the dogs behavior. Had this truly been a properly trained service dog & handler, the handler would have known no action on their part would result in beginning ask to leave the flight.
    People need to grow up & take responsibility for their actions.
    Having a quick service dog is a life changing blessing as well as a lot of work & responsibility.
    We don’t take these dogs with us for the fun of it but to make our lives outside the home livable & safe.

    • Chris

      Thank you!

  • Chris

    This “bad mouthing” of people using service animals is doing much more damage than the very rare cases of fraud. Articles like this one and the comments mentioned in them, are often misguided, ill-informed, or just plainly wrong. Since a while, it seems to be fashionable to go after service animals and their owners, and the press does a very good job of defamating them. It is a shame.

    • Jill Gillham

      The service animal fraud problem is bad enough that many states have either passed or are considering laws criminalizing false representation of service animals. These laws are typically at the request of disability rights groups because the fraudulent service animals make life harder for those with legit needs an properly trained animals. Florida passed one in 2015. The problem in respect to travel is that the ACAA seems to trump local/state law because of the interstate commerce thing.

      • Chris

        I do not see a “service animal fraud” problem. Not in reality, only in articles like this one, which then again causes really mean and bad comments like the ones below. In reality, I barely see any service animals. Not in Walmarts, restaurants, stores, or on air planes. Where all this talk about “service animal fraud” is coming from, I do not know exactly, but I have my suspicions.
        Even if there are fraudsters, they do not hurt disabled people. Articles like this one and those nasty comments, which are aimed at stricter rules for service animals (best is: none at all), allowing less access for disabled people to service animals, THAT is hurting disabled people.
        Why do people try so hard to make the lives of people who benefit from a service animal (or emotional support animal) so much harder than it is already? I don’t get it. Except for the part: we are young and healthy and snobs who do not want to be on an airplane with a dog (or turkey, for that matter).

  • Chris

    You should rad this, before going on with the complaining about “weirdos” and “fraudsters”. http://fox59.com/2014/08/03/a-local-mother-is-fighting-to-keep-her-autistic-sons-therapy-chickens/
    Those healthy young people, who do not know anything about being disabled, and find it smart and fashionable to put disabled people down, please, keep your mouths shut – wait until it hits you, and then we talk again.

  • fraslin

    We have a tiny dog (5 lbs) that we got classified as an emotional support dog. Our reason is that the airline wants to charge $125 each way for what is essentially a small bag that fits under the seat. The dog sleeps and doesn’t bother anyone. Seen a bunch of cats travel this way too. Why does the airline need to charge so much when they don’t do anything? Assume like everything else it is greed.

    So the reason for the increase in ESAs is probably proportional to the increase in fees for animals by the airline. Haven’t seen this discussed in any of the articles on this subject.

    • Chris

      So is it an ESA, or are you just trying to cheat your way out of paying those fees (which are too high but anyway … no reason or justification to have a pretend ESA)?

  • Roger Wilco

    If a passanger cannot fly without an animal, (s)he should be deemed unfit to fly. Period.

    (with the exception of guide dog for the blind – but those are not “emotional support animals”)