People have a lot to say about emotional support animals on planes

Key Points
  • The three largest U.S. airlines recently tightened policies for on-board emotional support animals.
  • Passengers and crew have complained about animal allergies, biting, urination and defecation on board.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation requested public comment for what could be eventual rule changes for such animals.
In this April 1, 2017, file photo, a service dog named Orlando rests on the foot of its trainer, John Reddan, of Warwick, N.Y., while sitting inside a plane at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Julio Cortez | AP

The public has some strong opinions about the surge in emotional support animals on board airplanes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has received about 950 comments about the increase in emotional and psychiatric support animals in airplane cabins since it put out its request for public comment five days ago.

The agency is considering changing its rules for bringing such animals on board. These animals can fly free of charge and without a carrier under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act.

But airlines, including Delta, United and American this year have tightened restrictions on such support animals, asking passengers to provide signed documents that state the animal can behave, after passengers and crew complained about allergies and soiled cabins, and raised concerns about travelers getting certification fraudulently. A passenger last year was mauled on a Delta flight by a passenger's emotional support dog.

The DOT last week said it would not punish airlines for issuing "reasonable" restrictions on the movements of such animals around the cabin.

"What about passengers who suffer from allergies to animals on board flights? Will airlines be providing separate flights for those passengers? Or, will there be designated flights for those who must travel with their service animals?" asked commenter Shirley K.

Richard Deal urged regulators to only permit service animals for the blind.

"If flying does not work for you then drive or walk. Enough is enough," Deal said.

Others fretted about soiled cabins.

"It is unfair to those of us who have paid for a ticket to suffer through sitting next to a barking dog or an animals that pees or poops next to my seat (don't even get me started about 'comfort snakes' — you would have a true incident on board if I discovered one of those on my flight!!)," wrote Melissa Martzloff.

Some wrote in to defend their need for an emotional support animal. Darren Melamed said a ban on well-behaved emotional support animals "will be devastating to my emotional well being when traveling."

"I do believe that there are bad actors out there," Melamed said. "No, a peacock does not belong on a plane. However, a well trained dog should be protected."

United denied a passenger's emotional support peacock from boarding a transcontinental flight earlier this year.

Susan Swanson of San Francisco suggested airlines make an announcement if a service animal will be on board and allow passengers with allergies who don't want to fly with it in the cabin to be rebooked on another flight "or forever hold their peace."

"How about having consideration for us?!?," wrote Gary Ulinskas, who said his wife is allergic to cats.

"Hotels have 'pet free' rooms for people with allergies to animal dander, why can't airlines have 'pet free' (at least in the passenger cabin) flights? Hope you folks are serious about this. Thanks for listening."

The Department of Transportation is still collecting comments here.