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Emotional support pets help people suffering from anxiety and other psychological disorders during airline travel. Airlines have responsively recognized this issue within the structure of federal guidelines. According to ABC News, federal regulations allow an emotional support animal such as a dog, a cat, or even a pot-bellied pig to travel on airplanes in the cabin with the owner. The animal can be outside a carrier and flies for free if the owner has proper documentation, usually a letter from a doctor or other mental health professional. Airlines are allowed to ask people traveling with emotional support animals for this documentation, but they are not required to.201 These policies have led to soaring numbers of support pets on planes. USA Today reports that United Airlines has seen a 75 percent increase in emotion support animals on flights—from 43,000 to 76,000—between 2016 and 2017. The rise has also contributed to a significant increase in onboard incidents.202 The union representing United’s flight attendants says many of these incidents include allergic reactions in other passengers and undesirable animal behaviors like aggressive behavior, biting, urination, and defecation.203 This all contributed to United Airlines drawing the line when someone tried to bring a pet called Dexter on a flight leaving Newark. The airline refused not because Dexter is your typical four-legged emotional support animal but because Dexter is a peacock—and quite a large one at that. This challenge pertains to whether United made the right call in changing its support pet policies after Dexter’s aborted trip. United’s new policies require customers to confirm that the animal has been trained to behave properly in public and to acknowledge their responsibility for the animal’s conduct. Customers must also provide the airline with 48 hours’ notice, a health and vaccination form from a veterinarian, and a letter from a mental health professional stating the benefit received from the emotional support animal.204 The 48-hour rule means that customers will have trouble boarding with their pets during emergency travel. Do these changes seem fair? Consider that different airlines require different documentation in order to decide whether a pet is qualified as an emotional support animal. United and Delta Airlines require certain documentation, while American Airlines has other requirements. Some airlines don’t allow emotional support pets onboard, period.205 Should the airlines be consistent? The preceding rules do not apply to service animals, which are legally defined as dogs “trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.” These animals are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can go wherever their owners go. Service dogs receive specific training in order to be certified as such. A Seeing Eye dog, for example, is a carefully trained dog that serves as a travel tool for persons who have severe visual impairments or are blind. Emotional support animals are not required to go through the same training and certifications, a loophole that National Geographic reports some pet owners are abusing to avoid the airlines’ surcharge of $125 or more for transporting regular pets.206 A CBS News correspondent was actually able to purchase a support animal vest and accompanying mental health professional letter online without her cat even being evaluated. The registration took just five minutes and cost $150.207 Legal/Ethical Challenge Individual and Group Decision Making CHAPTER 7 279 Thisbehavior is causing problems for those with legitimate service animals. Some are being harassed by fed-up and unsympathetic airline employees and passengers, and untrained emotional support pets have also attacked trained service animals during flights. An advocate for the blind told CBS News, “As a person who is blind, my access rights are being infringed upon when somebody passes off a fake service dog.”208

1. Do not implement the new rules. The airline should allow emotional support pets to travel unrestricted, just as service dogs do. Airlines should not be in the business of categorizing passengers’ pets. 2. Implement the new rules. Emotional support pets are not service dogs and should be treated differently. The airline needs to ensure the safety of employees, passengers, and other animals during flight. 3. Refer this issue to regulators like the Department of Transportation instead of implementing your own rules. The government can address this issue by passing regulation that will consistently be enforced by all airlines. 4. Invent other options.


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