Pilots and Flight Attendants Reveal Why They’re Fed Up With Emotional Support Animals

Do you know someone with a fake service dog? They’re out there. They wear vests and accompany their owners just like legitimate service animals. Unfortunately, sometimes these pets put others, and legitimate service animals, at risk.

Airlines like Delta are finally putting new rules in place to deal with unruly pets on planes. Here’s the difference between emotional, service, and therapy animals, and why pilots and flight attendants are relieved.

What are emotional support animals?

one beagle slapping another beagle

We love the companionship our pets give us. Flight attendants don’t. | Screenshot via YouTube

Emotional support animals, usually dogs or cats, are animals that offer comfort and companionship to their owners. In some states and cities, you can take an emotional support animal anywhere as long as you “register” it. You don’t have the same rights as those with service animals, however.

Next: Is an emotional support dog also a service dog?

They’re different from service animals in many ways

Clumber spaniel

Support animals don’t need any kind of training — and they can be just about anything. | Andrew Burton/Getty Images

People often use “service animal” and “support animal” interchangeably, though their distinctions are extremely important. Emotional support animals are not service animals. They typically don’t receive formal training to perform essential tasks.

Next: Here are the conditions a service animal, by law, can assist.

Service animals have specific responsibilities

Service Dog in training

Service dogs are incredibly well trained. | Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

A service dog receives training to assist people with physical disabilities like hearing or vision loss to help them navigate the world safely. There are also service animals trained to assist people with autism, as well as individuals with seizure disorders.

Next: Does a psychiatric disorder allow someone to have a service animal?

Doctors can prescribe psychiatric service animals

Female Doctor Meeting With Patient In Exam Room

Doctors can suggest patients get a service dog. | monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images

Psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals aren’t synonymous, either. A licensed psychiatrist may “prescribe” a service dog to someone with post-traumatic stress disorder or other anxiety disorders, for example. Technically, these are conditions protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Next: Can you take your therapy dog on a plane?

Emotional support animals are not therapy animals

Dalmatian Therapy dog

Therapy dogs are different from emotional support dogs.  | China Photos/Getty Images

Unlike a service animal or an emotional support animal, a therapy dog isn’t actually trained to assist their handler. Their handler takes them to places like hospitals, schools, and nursing homes to interact with others in a safe, comforting environment. Their handlers don’t have the same legal rights, like bringing their dogs onto planes, for example.

Next: The law allows certain people to bring their service dogs anywhere they choose.

Service animals and the law

Man with service dog

Service dogs can go just about anywhere. | Jfbenning/iStock/Getty Images

The Americans with Disabilities Act permits anyone with a documented physical or mental disability to have a service animal. As long as this animal performs tasks to assist that person, they can bring them anywhere to perform these essential tasks. Legally, for example, a flight attendant cannot refuse to allow a service dog onto a plane.

Next: Here’s where you can and can’t bring an emotional support animal.

Where can you take emotional support animals?

Cute little white dog sitting in a cage

There are rules around where they can and can’t go. | kozorog/iStock/Getty Images

State and local governments regulate specifically where in public you can and cannot bring an emotional support dog. Even with documentation, a store manager or other official can legally refuse to allow your support animal to accompany you in a public place if they see fit.

Next: Can you train your own service animal?

How to train and certify service animals

Service Dog Sitting with ball

Service dogs need to complete rigorous training. | User10095428_393/iStock/Getty Images

In order for a dog to be considered a service dog, it must successfully complete the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test. An owner can train their own dog, or obtain one trained by a professional organization, but it has to pass the test.

Next: Does an emotional support animal take the same test?

How to train and certify emotional support animals

Man holding dog

Emotional support dogs don’t require any training. | JamesYetMingAu-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

To qualify for an emotional support animal, you need documentation from a licensed health professional. You can’t “certify” an emotional support animal — it doesn’t count even if you have a signed certificate from the internet. You’re the one who qualifies, not your pet, but you still need to train it.

A flight attendant cannot turn you away if you have the proper documentation from a medical professional, but they can do so — and will — otherwise.

Next: This is how flight attendants and passengers really feel about these animals.

Why don’t pilots and flight attendants like emotional support animals?

Flight Attendant

Flight crews aren’t usually fans of emotional support animals. | Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Technically, every animal qualifies as an emotional support animal if trained to comfort you. Pilots, flight attendants, and passengers with and without disabilities find many emotional support animals and their owners frustrating and even dangerous.

Next: If emotional support dogs aren’t trained, why do passengers claim they’re necessary?

Why do people claim they need them when they really don’t?

Dog with bared teeth

Just because you love your dog, it doesn’t mean that it behaves well around others. | Fastfun23/iStock/Getty Images

There are probably some people who do feel safer on a flight with their pet by their side — and don’t realize how harmful that choice can be. Unfortunately, there are also passengers who register their pets so they can fly with them for free. All you need is a signed certificate, which anyone can order and pay for.

Next: Sometimes emotional support animals bite passengers because they don’t know any better.

Emotional support animals don’t have proper training

Young girl with dog in the park

Just because your dog comforts you, that doesn’t make him a service dog. | mbot/Getty Images

While there are some well-trained emotional support animals that don’t cause problems, many people register their pets as ESAs without training them. This has caused extreme discomfort for some passengers — and serious safety issues for others.

Next: Here’s what airlines are doing about it.

Airlines are finally stepping in

delta airlines jet

Delta has had enough with unpredictable animals. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

To protect the needs and rights of persons with disabilities who require service animals to travel, Delta implemented stricter policies specifying who can and cannot fly with animal assistance. If an airline believes an animal poses a possible threat to the safety of other passengers and their service animals, they don’t fly.

Next: Have a service or support animal? Here’s what you’ll need to do before you fly.

What you’ll need to bring yours onto your next flight

Dog leaning away

You’ll need documentation from your vet next time you want to fly with your dog. | fotoedu/iStock/Getty Images

Those who wish to fly with an emotional support animal will need to submit veterinary and/or immunization records 48 hours beforehand. They will need to bring both a signed document confirming their animal has been properly trained and a letter from a licensed medical professional declaring their need to bring a support animal on board.

Next: Here’s how nervous flyers can travel pet-free.

How to survive a flight without your pet

Airplane passengers relax during flight

There are other ways to fly stress-free. | CandyBoxImages/iStock/Getty Images

Are you an anxious flyer? If your untrained pet can’t accompany you on the plane to provide comfort, you can still get through it without them. Follow these flight attendant-approved suggestions for flying stress-free.

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