Smells, growls and disputes: American recounts 'comfort animal' conflicts
King 5 | Bart Jansen
WASHINGTON – A Yorkshire terrier-type dog defecated on the owner’s sweater before leaping onto a neighbor's lap during one American Airlines flight in November 2017, stinking up the cabin and prompting passengers to turn on their air vents.
Another passenger told a flight attendant that a lapdog barking and growling during a March 2018 was an emotional-support animal she needed for protection. And another passenger had two dogs, leaving the black one unattended while taking the white one to the toilet during a September 2017 flight.
These were among the anecdotes from passengers and crew members that American Airlines submitted Tuesday in its comments about potential changes in federal regulations dealing with animals traveling with passengers in airline cabins.
More comprehensively, American surveyed 18,000 passengers during one weekend in May and nearly 58 percent of respondents said only trained service dogs should be allowed in the cabin, while nearly 29 percent said emotional-support dogs should also be allowed and nearly 14 percent were fine with current rules that allow a wider variety of animals.
An ant colony, a sloth, kangaroos, rabbits, lizards, pigs, crabs, wallabies and monkeys are among the critters American has been asked to transport.
A week in June, the airline also surveyed 7,347 of its workers who come into contact with animals found that 65 percent have experienced disruptions involving comfort animals during the last two years. Nearly 25 percent said aggressive and threatening behavior was most common, while 11 percent reported animals soiling the cabin.
“American Airlines supports the rights of qualified individuals with disabilities and their legitimate service animals,” said the 30-page filing from Meghan Ludtke, the airline’s managing director of regulatory affairs, and Molly Wilkinson, vice president of regulatory affairs.
But the airline asked the Transportation Department to stop recognizing emotional-support animals and allow only dogs “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.”
The department is collecting comment because of increasing complaints about the number and variety of animals flying in recent years. Nearly 4,000 comments poured in by Monday, with a deadline of July 15.
American, Delta and United airlines each updated their policies this year dealing with emotional-support animals. But some passengers contend that animals help them cope with flying and advocates for people with disabilities have tried to map a compromise for passengers to keep comfort animals in their laps.
American Airlines carried 155,790 emotional-support animals last year, up from 105,155 in 2016. The carrier also had 49,196 trained service animals, up from 39,926 in 2016.
Airlines and skeptical passengers contend that some passengers are designating animals for emotional support to avoid the fees required for pets in containers that must fit under the seat or in checked luggage.
The fight isn’t over service animals such as dogs for the blind. But, for example, the Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes miniature horses as service animals. American said horses aren’t suited for airline travel because they are too large for the cabin and a potential safety risk if their hooves shredded an evacuate slide.