Emotional Support Animals Negatively Affecting Air Travel

Flight Attendant Union Calls on DOT to Take Action

September 13, 2018 — A new national survey of flight attendants released today by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO (AFA) found that over 98% of all respondents had worked a flight with at least one emotional support animal onboard in the last 24 months.

AFA has called on the Department of Transportation to take action to limit abuse of the ‘emotional support animal’ designation in the system. Eighty-two percent of all responding flight attendants strongly believe a consistent policy throughout the airline industry is needed to define requirements while supporting passengers with disabilities and veterans.

Emotional Support Animal Survey“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

Sixty-one percent of the responding flight attendants reported working a flight where an emotional support animal caused a disruption in the cabin; 53% of the disruptions included aggressive or threatening behavior by the animal. Examples include a dog snapping at a flight attendant’s heel when they walked by or in another case 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 crewmembers, 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. Responding flight attendants also reported animals often getting loose in the cabin after their owner fell asleep during 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 onboard assisted and advised the owner to hold the animal tightly and talk to the “emotional support animal” because it was having an anxiety attack.

Additional findings:

  • 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 diarrhea on their owner’s lap in the center 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 behavior 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.

  • Almost 20 percent of responding flight attendants had seen travellers express a bias against passengers traveling 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 legitimate need. The DOT needs to take action.”

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.


The Association of Flight Attendants is the Flight Attendant union. Focused 100 percent on Flight Attendant issues, AFA has been the leader in advancing the Flight Attendant profession for 73 years. Serving as the voice for Flight Attendants in the workplace, in the aviation industry, in the media and on Capitol Hill, AFA has transformed the Flight Attendant profession by raising wages, benefits and working conditions. Nearly 50,000 Flight Attendants come together to form AFA, part of the 700,000-member strong Communications Workers of America (CWA), AFL-CIO. Visit us at www.afacwa.org.

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