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Are They All Really Therapy Animals? How Airplane Passengers Are Abusing the System

Are They All Really Therapy Animals? How Airplane Passengers Are Abusing the System

As we learn more about the different types of therapy animals can offer, it seems logical that having emotional support from an animal while traveling can provide some people with much needed relief. But not all of the emotional support animals being brought on board airplanes these days are providing any sort of therapy. The trend continues to rise and some feel passengers are abusing the system - making airplanes look more like a pet store.

Today reports about the growing number of passengers that experts believe are abusing the system when they bring their pets on board. A former flight attendant, Hollis Gillespie, has seen it all including snakes, birds and pigs. Gillespie explains, “You get on an aircraft and the cabin looks like a barnyard. Often it's about the money, because one way to travel with a pet on some airlines can be up to $600, depending on the size of the animal.”

It’s fairly simple to declare your pet an emotional support animal before going on board an airplane. If a passenger is able to attain a note from any mental health professional (could be a friend or family member) and have their animal wear an “emotional support vest,” then then they can save upwards of $600 and have their pet ride for free.

If you don’t have or know a therapist willing to give you an official letter, there are now websites that will provide animal support certificates and a signed letter from a real mental health professional after you fill out a simple questionnaire. But even if you come armed with a letter and certificate, you may never be asked to show any proof at all. Investigative correspondent for Today Jeff Rossen tested the system and took two flights with his dog Rory in his lap without being asked to see his “official letter” that he attained from the website.

Unfortunately, for people who are truly disabled and need a support animal by their side, passengers who abuse the system aren’t helping. Disability expert Laurel Van Horn explains, “When you try to pass off your animal as a service animal or an emotional support animal and it's not, what you're really doing is you're passing yourself off as a person with a disability, and it can have real consequences for those who actually need these animals.”

What do you think of the way some are abusing the “emotional support animal” policy on board flights?

How do you think airlines should better regulate the system that’s currently in place?

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