A searing new study reports that 61 percent of flight attendants say they have seen an emotional support animal cause a disturbance midflight within the last two years.
The survey was conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) among 5,000 flight attendants employed by 30 different airlines.
AFA is calling on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to regulate the “rampant abuse” that lax rules on emotional service animal designations is reportedly fostering, as the issue is said to be escalating into a “safety, health, and security issue” that is “negatively affecting all passengers.”
“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.”
AFA reported earlier this week that 82 percent flight attendants surveyed agree that the DOT needs to release a more clarified policy on the requirements for emotional support animal in the high skies, while continuing necessary support for travelers with disabilities and veterans.
“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 Sara Nelson, AFA’s president.
According to the findings, 53 percent of the reported disruptions included aggressive or threatening behavior by the animal, including a dog biting a flight attendant distributing beverages. Meanwhile, 43 percent of disturbances included emotional support animals “failing to fit” in their designated spaces, and proceeding to wander around the cabin or bark through the flight.
The airline staffers polled also mentioned that the animals often get loose in the cabin if their owner falls asleep on the plane.
Furthermore, 26 percent of respondents said they have had an emotional support animals defecate or urinate in the cabin.
Unfortunately, 20 percent of flight attendants polled also said they have seen passengers “express a bias against passengers traveling with service animals,” as they incorrectly assumed the service animals were in fact “fake” service for emotional support animals.
Neverthless, the AFA president told The Washington Post that the revised “common sense” policies the AFA is lobbying for have no relation to trained service animals.
“I will you tell that, actually, some of our favorite animals are service animals,” Nelson said. “You wouldn’t even know that they’re there. They’re trained to almost make themselves invisible and to give their owners the care and the guidance that they need. But these emotional support animals are not trained to be in these spaces.”
Discussion surrounding emotional support animals on planes has proven to be one of the biggest travel news topics of the year, ever since an emotional support peacock named Dexter and his owner were rejected from boarding a United Airlines flight in January.
Ever since, various carriers have been tightening the leash on their respective rules on the subject as well.
By Janine Puhak