Friday, 14 September 2018

Emotional support animals have a negative effect on travel - says US flight attendents


Emotional support animals allowed on US flights continue to have a negative impact on air travel according to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) following a new national survey of US flight attendants released today.

The survey found that over 98% of all respondents had crewed a flight with at least one emotional support animal onboard during the last two years. 

"The rampant abuse of claiming a need for emotional support animals in air travel is negatively impacting all passengers. It's a safety, health, and security issue," said Sara Nelson, AFA President. 

The report detailed that 61% of the responding flight attendants reported working on a flight where an emotional support animal caused a disruption in the cabin; 53% of the disruptions included aggressive or threatening behaviour by the animal.  Examples include a dog snapping at a flight attendant's heel when they walked by or in another case an animal bit a flight attendant while they attempted to set a beverage on the tray table. Flight attendants also reported repeated barking, snapping, and lunging at crew members, passengers, and even children.

Forty-three percent of the disruptions included animals failing to fit in the designated space, roaming about the cabin, and barking consistently throughout the flight. One bird was lost in the cabin for 45 minutes, one dog was in the aisle of the aircraft the entire flight, blocking the path of egress. 

Some flight attendants said that animals had often got loose in the cabin after their owner fell asleep during the flight.  One of the more ironic examples reported was a flight attendant who had to page for a vet because a passenger said their dog was having a breathing problem. A nurse on board assisted and advised the owner to hold the animal tightly and talk to the "emotional support animal" because it was having an anxiety attack.

The report also tells how 26% of the disruptions included emotional support animals defecating or urinating in the cabin. "The passengers put pee pads down like it was a pet store for it to go to the bathroom," said one respondent. Another indicated an animal had extreme diarrhoea on their owner's lap in the centre seat. "Both passengers on either side, as well as seat backs were covered."

13% reported the disruptions included passenger on passenger conflicts related to the presence and/or behaviour of an emotional support animal. According to one survey, "a teenager seated between two emotional support animals had an allergic reaction and was placed on oxygen."

Almost 2 out of 3 (64%) responding flight attendants did not believe that individual airline emotional support animal policies and procedures are effective in supporting a safe and equitable policy for all passengers in the cabin. 

The respondents stressed the need for DOT to create common sense, consistent standards for airlines to follow. It says that 82% of those flight attendants that responded to the survey believe strongly that a consistent policy throughout the airline industry is needed to define requirements while supporting passengers with disabilities and veterans.

The survey found that almost 20% of flight attendants that responded had seen travellers express a bias against passengers travelling with service animals because they assume all declared service or emotional support animals are fake.

"Passengers who attempt to evade air transport pet policies by falsely claiming their pet is an emotional support animal cause safety, health, and security issues onboard," Nelson said. "The widespread abuse has led many passengers to believe all service animals onboard are fake, which creates poor treatment by other passengers toward those with a legitimate need. The DOT needs to take action," said Sara Nelson, AFA President.

Animals identified in the survey were primarily dogs and cats, but also included household birds (parrot, finch, etc.), rodents (hamster, guinea pig, etc.), pigs, reptiles, and non-household birds. Nearly 5,000 responses from flight attendants across 30 airlines were collected from July 20, 2018 through August 6, 2018.

(Photo London Gatwick Airport)