Sign In

Should ESA be able to fly?

April 6, 2020

You might inwardly groan when you board your airplane and realize you’re next to a screaming child, or find yourself squirming when the person next to you takes their shoes and socks off for the duration of the flight.

But how would you feel if you ended up sat next to a 70 pound, pot bellied pig?

Meet Hamlet the hog, owned by 31-year-old American Megan Peabody, who’s based in the US Virgin Islands.

Yes, pigs can fly — because Hamlet’s classified as an emotional support animal, Peabody can bring him into the cabin — at least in the United States — free of charge, to aid her in-air anxieties.

“His presence is calming because it is familiar to me,” Peabody tells CNN Travel. “It distracts me from my surroundings when they make me anxious.”

Emotional support animals (ESAs) are an increasingly hot topic in the United States, as more and more passengers arrive at the airport with an animal in tow, arguing that a furry friend will alleviate their aviation anxieties.

The phenomenon’s prompted vigorous discussion on what constitutes an ESA, whether the system’s being manipulated by pet owners keen to skip travel fees, what the impact is on air crew and fellow passengers, and whether ESAs on the plane do a disservice to those who genuinely need service animals on board.

It’s not just allergy-stricken travelers and exhausted flight crew who are growing frustrated at ESAs on airplanes — passengers who need to travel with service animals are also feeling vexed by ESAs in the air.

In August 2019, over 80 veterans and disability groups wrote to US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, requesting that legislation be brought in to require adequate training for ESAs on airplanes.

One of the signatures on the letter is that of Lori Stevens, founder and executive director of Patriot PAWS Service Dogs, a group that provides trained service dogs for disabled veterans.

“Emotional support animals […] are causing trouble for the legit service dogs,” Stevens tells CNN Travel. “There’s so many of them out there that don’t have the appropriate training and they’re causing trouble for the people with mobile disabilities or physical — true physical — disabilities.”

Stevens clarifies that she believes some travelers have a true need for an ESA, but there needs to be stricter regulations.

“[My] dogs go through through years of training — months and months of training — and your emotional support animal doesn’t have to necessarily have any training. I think there needs to be some minimum requirements set up.”

Her comments are echoed by Jason Haag, CEO and founder of Leashes of Valor, a US-based non-profit that connects veterans with PTSD or a traumatic brain injury with a service dog. Haag also signed the letter to Chao.

“Emotional support animals are fantastic,” says Haag. “I think dogs and cats and any type of animal can do a whole bunch of things emotionally and psychologically for a person.”

The problem, he says, is when untrained ESAs are let loose in public spaces like airplanes.

“It can do a real disservice to other dogs that are in the area that have been specifically trained such as ours,” Haag says.

Travelers with service animals have also expressed frustration at the general misconception of what constitutes a service animal, and what defines an emotional support animal.

In summer 2019, a service horse named Flirty made headlines when he boarded an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Nebraska.

Some media outlets referred to Flirty as an ESA, but the miniature horse is actually a trained service animal. Her owner, Abrea Hensley, suffers from PTSD, depression and anxiety. On Flirty’s popular Instagram page, Hensley explains the horse is trained to alert her when she’s on the verge of a panic attack or a dissociative episode.

It would be incredible if there were certain flights, or even an airline, designated for people traveling with animals.

“It just seems there is a way around all the chaos that seems to be the norm now for ESAs. It’s a lucrative idea for someone willing to give it a try, in my opinion.”

Register Your Dog

  • Most Recent News

    Izzy The Therapy Dog

    There is something different strolling the halls of schools in Moody this year and she’s soft, gentle and loves kids. Her name is Izzy and she is a two-year-old Goldendoodle, turned therapy dog. Her owner, Sgt. Ron Richardson, with the Moody Police Department, saw a video of a therapy dog being used in Cullman County […]

    Read more

    Animal Advocate

    Penny, a spaniel mix who works as a canine advocate for domestic violence victims through Crisis Center North, is nearing retirement. She was adopted from Action for Animals in Derry Township and attends court dates with victims to provide emotional support. But before she retires, she has one more job. She needs to train an […]

    Read more

    Dog Chow Campaign

    In honor of National Service Dog Awareness Month, Purina Dog Chow is launching its third annual “Service Dog Salute” campaign. A service dog can be life-changing in helping veterans with PTSD and other post-combat challenges. Unfortunately, due to the cost and time it takes to train a service dog, less than 1% of veterans in […]

    Read more

    Therapy Dog In School

    A Derry primary school this week welcomed a new member of staff – its very own therapy dog. Joy will be used to provide comfort and reassurance to pupils at St Oliver Plunkett Primary School after studies have shown that therapy dogs have a positive impact on children’s mood and behaviour. St Oliver Plunkett is […]

    Read more

    Polices Therapy Dog

    The Great Barrington police department is holding a swearing in ceremony Friday for its new therapy dog, Officer Beko. Beko is a 16-week old black lab and works with Officer Kris Balestro. Beko’s training, certification and care are funded by donations from the local community. Officer Beko is the first therapy dog to join a […]

    Read more

    BarkBox Launching Essentials

    If your dog loves to monitor your work when you’re cooking, generally gets underfoot the entire time and sees “taste tester” as their official title, these new dog toys may be essential in your kitchen. Starting Oct. 1, Bed, Bath & Beyond is introducing a new line, specifically tailored to your dog’s kitchen needs. In […]

    Read more