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Majority of Flight Attendants Have Seen an Emotional Support Animal Cause Midflight Disturbance

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© Getty Images PHOTO: A Pomeranian inside of a travel bag aboard an airplane. (photo via nadisja/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

By Patrick Clarke, TravelPulse

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) is urging the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to crack down on the "rampant abuse" of the emotional support animal designation.

On Thursday, the union revealed that 61 percent of nearly 5,000 flight attendants across 30 airlines reported working a flight where an emotional support animal caused a disruption in the cabin.

What's more, 53 percent of those reported incidents included aggressive or threatening behavior by the animal, including a dog snapping at a flight attendant’s heel and another biting a flight attendant as they attempted to set a beverage on the tray table.

There were also reports of emotional support animals barking, snapping and lunging at crew members and passengers, sometimes children.

Meanwhile, 43 percent of the disruptions included animals failing to fit in their designated space, roaming around the cabin and causing annoyance by barking throughout the flight.

Multiple flight attendants said they've seen animals get loose after their owner fell asleep.

One-quarter of the incidents involved animals defecating or urinating in the cabin. One respondent described an event in which an animal had extreme diarrhea on their owner's lap in a center seat, leaving both passengers on either side covered in feces.

Animals identified in the survey responses were mainly dogs and cats but also included birds, rodents, pigs and reptiles.

"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 AFA president Sara Nelson in a statement accompanying the survey results.

Eight out of 10 flight attendants (82 percent) said they strongly believe a consistent policy throughout the airline industry is necessary to improve conditions for all crew members and passengers, including those who legitimately require an emotional support animal to travel.

"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," added Nelson. "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."

One in five flight attendants reported seeing travelers express a bias against passengers traveling with service animals because they assumed the claim was fake, the survey found.

"The DOT needs to take action," Nelson stated.

A handful of airlines have announced changes to their emotional support animal policies in recent months, including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines.

Nonetheless, the AFA survey found that nearly two out of three (64 percent) of flight attendants don't believe individual airline emotional support animal policies and procedures are effective in supporting a safe and equitable policy for all passengers.

Airlines for America has also asked DOT for stricter policies.

The union is calling on DOT to create common sense and consistent standards for airlines to follow when it comes to non-trained service animals.

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