Comfort Animals Take To The Not So Friendly Skies

Comfort animals are a sub-category of service animals that assist their masters with disabilities. According to the American with Disabilities Act, service animals are individually trained animals that specialize in certain forms of assistance. This form of aid includes guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for deaf, mobility animals that can pull wheelchairs and alert animals that protect pet owners should a bodily seizure occur.

Comfort Animals

People who have been diagnosed by mental health professionals with various forms of anxiety can now be offered comfort animals as a form of treatment. These trained pets can accompany their masters wherever they go.  When it comes to air travel, today most airlines have addressed these types of afflictions the same as any other disability.

And therein lies the rub.

Comfort animals don’t follow the same rules as other pets you may choose to fly with. Airlines can charge as much as $150 one-way (rates vary based on carry-on or cargo passage). Comfort animals are not charged. 

Most airlines require a hard-bodied carrier, small enough to stow under the seat in front of you, yet large enough for the animal to turn around. Comfort animals can sit on your lap.

Fake Comfort Animals

Of recent date, it appears that the appeal for some passengers to escape paying extra fees and having their pets cage-free while in flight is too great to pass up. This has led to the practice of bending the rules.

In other words, more and more folks are faking it. While they will tell you their accompanying pets are support animals or psychiatric service animals, they often board planes with no official documentation.

With this trend escalating, when Delta Air Lines spokesperson Ashton Morrow was asked about this issue, she said she could not disclose the number of service animals per flight.

On the other hand, Eric Goldmann of Atlanta who travels frequently weighed in with a more insightful response. 

"When I see a dog in the airport, I befriend them," Goldmann said recently. "I like dogs. I'm allergic, but I like them."

Goldman noted he's been traveling several times a week for business for about 15 years, but only in the last few years has he seen the number rising. He had taken 142 flights this year by the end of October and said he saw so-called emotional support animals on about 40 percent of the planes he had flown.

Now that’s a lot of pets!

Turbulence for some . . .

Passengers traveling with fake emotional support animals is a growing problem for flight attendants, frequent fliers and people with disabilities who have service animals for medical reasons, according to Goldmann. Noise disturbances, allergies and sharing a seat next to a pet are some of recurring complaints.

Goldmann said he's gotten people to admit they pay about $49 for an official certificate from a licensed therapist and another $149 or so for the service animal vest. So those who are following the rules do incur some upfront costs.

However not all the lap dogs and cats are outfitted with these vests, but are permitted on many of these flights anyways. While the ticket counter agents are responsible for ensuring that these pet owners have their proper ‘service animal’ paperwork in order, if they are able to by pass that gatekeeper they’re pretty much golden to enter the airline, with their comfort pet in tow, while escaping the additional fees.

Any resolutions in flight, erh . . .sight?

While many hope the rules will get more stringent, others don’t expect new regulations any time soon. In fact, the situation could escalate further. In addition to your traditional pets, miniature horses can be classified as service animals too. Subbing for dogs, this equine species are specially trained to aid the blind. And as such are also allowed on airplanes.

So what’s next? Well, there is  that old trope: “When Pigs Fly!” — and Pet Airways did launch that service a few years back. And what about that movie, Snakes on a Plane — now, there's a scary thought!