Pet Peeves

When I was a kid, I had a stuffed Grover from Sesame Street. Some kids had a security blanket, but I had Grover. I took him everywhere, and I couldn’t sleep without him. Even though he was an inanimate object, he was very comforting and he made me happy.

Today, many people swear by the therapeutic benefits of support animals. These animals are specifically trained to calm their owners, much like Grover did with me. And like Grover, it is critical that support animals are with their owners as much as possible to reduce anxiety and to help them function.

So when these folks travel, their support animals need to travel with them.

In 1986, the U.S. adopted the Air Carrier Access Act (the ACAA), which prohibits airlines from discriminating against passengers with disabilities. As part of the ACAA, support animals are allowed to accompany passengers who require them.

The ACAA defines a service animal as one that is individually trained or able to provide assistance to a person with a disability or any animal that assists a person with a disability by providing emotional support.

Support animals may fly in the cabin of the plane with the passenger so long as they are not too big or heavy, do not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, do not cause a significant disruption of cabin service, and are not prohibited from entering a foreign country. In addition, airlines are never required to accept snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, and spiders. If there were snakes and spiders on my flight, I’m pretty sure I would need a support animal.

Airlines can request that passengers traveling with a support animal provide 48-hour advanced notice that the animal will be accompanying them. In addition, they can require recent documentation verifying the passenger has been diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional with a mental or emotional disability that is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and needs the emotional support of the animal to travel.

The support animal may sit in the space under the seat in front of the passenger or on his or her lap, so long as it is safe. The animal can’t, however, block the aisle or exits. Finally, the support animal must behave, which means it can’t bark or snarl, run around, or jump onto other passengers. If it does, the airline can refuse to let it fly.

Because of some unfortunate occurrences, however, airlines have recently begun to crack down on support animals. Last month, Delta Airlines updated their service and support animal policy to now require documentation that the animals have been well-trained and are vaccinated. The change is a result of an 84% increase in “animal-related incidents” last year, such as defecating, urinating, aggression, and biting. The rules also prohibit insects, goats, or any animals with tusks or hooves. To establish the new rules, Delta consulted with its Advisory Board on Disabilities, which is a group of frequent flyers with a range of disabilities.

Last week, United Airlines denied a passenger’s request to bring her peacock on her flight, even though she bought an extra ticket. The airline issued a statement saying, “This animal did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size. We explained this to the customers on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport.”

While Grover did smell like cheese and cola, at least he never pooped on anyone.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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