If you’ve ever flown a dog around South Africa, you might already know that our airlines allow guide dogs to fly at the feet of their audially- and visually-challenged owners (those who struggle to hear and see) with the required paperwork, but dogs in other roles, cats, and birds, must travel separately[1].

These other pets are, of course, safe, and secure in approved containers in what is called ‘pet class’, a separate section of the plane with the same atmospheric conditions as humans enjoy, but they have no access to their human or any others during the flight. That’s awkward enough for an animal, but there also may be a legitimate reason a human wants their pet by their side in the sky.

If you’ve come across the term “emotional support animal” that we explored in this blog piece,  you’ll know that some dogs are specially trained to provide therapy for their humans. Their presence is an emotional support and without them, their human might suffer trauma when flying alone. This can be the case for people who suffer from clinical depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Schizophrenia, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, suicidal tendencies, or phobias.

In the USA, luckily, the law is sensitive to the broad array of essential services that dogs offer humans, and, more recently, to the prejudice that keeps some support dogs out of the cabin entirely.

The Los Angeles Times reports[2] that a federal agency has taken the canine side and is stamping out negative bias against dogs of different breeds and temperaments across the country, one flight at a time.

On 8 August 2019, the United States Department of Transportation (DoT) decreed that passenger carriers in the airline industry can’t stop specific dog breeds from travelling as approved emotional support animals.

As with any dog travelling by air, however, vaccination papers are required, and additionally, any papers around training the dog has undergone, are requested. This helps determine whether it will be safe for the dog to travel alongside its human or if it needs to be transported in a separate section.

This comes in the wake of airlines clamping down on passengers claiming that an increasingly wide range of animals are an emotional support.

United Airlines saw a 75% increase from 2016 in supposed emotional support animals loose in the cabin in 2017 and the trade group, Airlines for America, told the Los Angeles Times that “airlines and airports saw a sharp increase in incidents such as biting and mauling by untrained animals.”

“A passenger was mauled by a 50-pound dog on a Delta flight in 2017,” the LA Times continues, “and a flight attendant on an American Airlines flight in July had to get five stitches on his left hand after being bitten by an [alleged] emotional support dog.” It is not clear if either of these incidents involved certified emotional therapy dogs.

In response to such instances, Delta Airlines, one of the country’s largest passenger carriers, banned ‘pit-bull types’ last year. There was much protest against this broad-sweep “solution” which some people feel encourages bias. Breeds like Pit Bulls are often (incorrectly) assumed to be violent because they have traditionally been bred for and forced into dogfighting for human entertainment and profit[1]. The new legislation puts a stop to this practice.

Both an airline trade group and a flight attendants union welcomed the new ruling. The president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA called the new guidelines “an important step.” “They’ll go into force later this year”, the LA Times asserts.

Let’s hope tighter regulations will bring happier flights to dogs and their humans, and that legislation like this will ultimately find its way over to our shores and skies.




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On behalf of paw-some airlines and the entire crew at dotsure.co.za, we’d like to thank you for joining us for another interesting article and we look forward having you onboard for the long haul. 😊


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[1] https://www.southafrica.to/transport/Airlines/mango-flights/Mango-pets.php

[2] https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-08-08/airlines-cant-bar-pit-bulls-or-other-breeds

[3] https://www.aspca.org/about-us/aspca-policy-and-position-statements/position-statement-pit-bulls