“Emotional support animals (ESAs) are no longer covered by the Air Carrier Access Act,” I heard on the local news playing in the background. As soon as I caught a glimpse of the headline to confirm what I’d heard, I stopped everything I was doing and grabbed my phone to call my mother, who travels with an ESA wherever she goes. Worries filled my head as the phone proceeded to ring. “What if something happens to her on the flight and our dog isn’t there? How will she ever fly safely and comfortably? Will we have to do all our traveling by car now?”
These are major concerns that people with ESAs are currently grappling with in light of the most recent revision to the Air Carrier Access Act. In this revision, which will take effect 30 days after it’s published in the Federal Register, the Department of Transportation states that airlines are “not required to recognize emotional support animals as service animals and may treat them as pets.” This comes in response to the increase in service-animal fraud — when airline passengers claim their house pets as certified service animals in order to avoid extra fees. Flying a pet in the cabin can get expensive, as it requires you to pay $125 or more (depending on the airline) for each leg of your flight. The easiest way to get around this is to claim your pet is a service animal, and people unfortunately get away with doing so all the time. Purchasing “official” documents and service vests from websites like CertaPet is easier than ever, and it’s reached a point where people have brought pigs, ostriches, and Shetland ponies with them on their flights. It’s an exploitation of the Air Carrier Access Act, and because the Department of Transportation is now cracking down on its regulation, it hurts passengers like my mother who have a legitimate need to fly with a support animal.
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