Some Americans are pretending to have disabilities so they can fly with their pets on airplanes.
“A guy had a miniature horse, which didn’t fit comfortably in the back, so he was put in first class,” Eric Lipp, of Open Doors Organization, a group that supports people traveling with legitimate disabilities, told the New York Post. “The airline made the horse wear these little shoes so it didn’t scuff the plane, but it pooped all over and the other first-class travelers weren’t happy.”
“The people who really need support animals despise people who fake it,’’ Lipp added. “I call it ‘the Paris Hilton effect,’ where people want to take their cute little dogs everywhere.”
Many travelers say their pets are emotional support animals, who can travel in the cabin under the Air Carrier Access Act, which was intended for people who have serious problems functioning without the help of animal. But the law is abused by some travelers who buy doctors' notes online.
To board an airline with an emotional support animal, a traveler must get a note from a licensed mental health professional. This has created an online black market for these types of letters and animal emotional support vests that can cost up to $200.
The airlines are unlikely to challenge the notes because if they refuse a legitimate need for animal companion, the companies can be fined as much as $150,000.
“A man once insisted that his emotional support monkey needed an emotional support bird,’’ Lipp recalled. “We have seen multiple people want bunny rabbits. One woman said she needed five of them, and the airline finally let her keep one in the cabin and waived the fee for the others, but made them ride in cargo.”
The Chicago Tribune noted in January that only a few states have laws banning people from bringing animals into restricted areas based on a lie, but organizations that aid disabled people are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to issue guidelines to keep the fakers out.
A woman and her "emotional support pig" were removed from a US Airways flight in November 2014, while another plane had to make an emergency landing in May 2014 after a dog relieved itself.