A new survey found that nearly one of every four flight attendants has had to deal with an emotional support animal defecating or urinating in the cabin during a flight, while 13 percent reported passenger-on-passenger conflicts triggered by the presence of the animals.
The Association of Flight Attendants, citing a survey of about 5,000 flight attendants across 30 airlines, said 61 percent of the respondents said they worked a flight where an emotional support animal caused a disturbance of some kind in the cabin. The union is hoping the survey results will push the federal government to adopt tighter regulations on what animals may fly on commercial airlines, its officials said.
Sara Nelson, the union’s president, said the survey suggests the problem is getting further out of hand while the Transportation Department considers new rules. More than 98 percent of the survey’s respondents worked on a flight with at least one emotional support animal in the past two years, and many of those were not fun.
“The responses we got from the survey only heighten our concern because of the number of flight attendants who were saying that the animals got loose that they were acting aggressively toward other passengers, and frankly the number that were defecating and urinating in the cabin. That’s a serious health issue,” Nelson said in an interview Thursday.
The issue is such a hot topic for flight attendants at the moment that the union’s survey reached beyond its own to include flight crews at airlines it doesn’t represent, she said.
The AFA argues that so many animals on flights is not only making life unpleasant for crews and passengers, it’s fueling a growing backlash against all in-flight animals, including bona fide service animals that are trained to help people with disabilities.
One flight attendant was bitten on the foot as she walked past a dog, and another was bitten while placing a drink on a tray table. Nelson was on a flight where a dog walked back and forth across several passengers, to everyone’s amusement – until the dog became worked up and began acting aggressively. The mood of nearby passengers also changed for the worse, she said.
“And at one point the owner had to contain the animal because what started as a very happy, cuddly situation for whatever reason turned into a stressful situation for the animal,” Nelson said. “That owner was able to get that animal under control, but that’s not always the case.”
It’s not just dogs, either. Delta Airlines, which announced this year that it was implementing stricter rules, said people have tried to fly with companion turkeys, companion snakes, companion spiders and more. The AFA said a bird got loose on one flight and couldn’t be found in the cabin for 45 minutes.
The union also is raising concern about the welfare of animals brought aboard planes improperly. Unlike trained service animals, pets and other creatures are generally not acclimated to the stressful conditions of commercial flight, including cramped spaces and cabin pressurization, Nelson said. Some animals become anxious and aggressive under such conditions.
“If it’s really a service animal, they are trained to be in that space. They are trained for emergency situations,” Nelson said.
The union, which represents more than 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, said its membership backs new regulations that might permit some emotional support animals aboard a flight, but only if they are strictly licensed and certified and required to be kept under proper control — all characteristics of properly trained service animals, which the union welcomes.
“I will you tell that, actually, some of our favorite animals are service animals,” Nelson said. “You wouldn’t even know that they’re there. They’re trained to almost make themselves invisible and to give their owners the care and the guidance that they need. But these emotional support animals are not trained to be in these spaces.”
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