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The Not So Pet Friendly Skies

Since adopting my beloved pup Benji almost two years ago, we’ve traveled thousands of miles together. On every trip, be it by car, train or plane, he is always calm and easygoing no matter what surprises we encounter along the way. I can’t always say the same for me, especially when it comes to navigating how airlines treat passengers with Emotional Support Animals (ESAN).

More often than not, we are subjected to unnecessary hassles under the auspices of following ESAN procedures. Procedures that seem to change depending on what airline and which employee you’re dealing with.

Benji in his usual chill mode in flight

The most maddening, frustrating experience checking in with Benji ever happened recently on Delta, flying back from Puerto Rico. The desk agent insisted there was no record of ESAN approval, despite my submitting the paperwork a week before and having checked in without incident for my outbound flight. As every airline advises, I had brought all required documentation with me. Standard protocol is that, if any issues arise, a supervisor reviews it and has authority to clear you for travel. Or you can call the airline’s special service desk and they will make a notation in your reservation. This time though, neither tactic accomplished anything.

Taking it all in. Cutest travel companion ever!

While Benji and I were at the desk, I called Delta and a helpful associate immediately updated my reservation with the ESAN approval. But it didn’t show up on the desk agent’s screen and he refused to speak with the Delta rep. He maintained my paperwork was out of date, even after I showed him an email confirming approval for Benji on our outbound flight just three days earlier. His supervisor misread it as an acknowledgement of receiving the paperwork and not clearance – even though those two communications look nothing alike.

About 45 minutes into this ordeal, they tell me that I need to have something signed on my doctor’s official letterhead. Interesting since this is not stated anywhere on Delta’s website or in the airline’s downloadable PDF of required ESAN forms. I present a form signed and dated, with my doctor’s official stamp. How could I have flown with Benji three days ago if my paperwork wasn’t correct? Can’t they look it up? The supervisor says it gets deleted once a flight is consumed. And yet curiously, after just a few keyboard and mouse clicks, she manages to call up my previous itinerary, find the approval and transfer it over to my return flight. Benji and I race frantically to the gate, barely making it in time.

This needless drama shouldn’t have surprised me. Delta has the most frequent and infuriating ESAN service issues. As Benji and I were boarding once, a flight attendant glanced at him and said with a fake smile–

“Just a reminder, no food or water.”

“Excuse me?” I answered, baffled by this unheard-of directive.

“No food or water because it will make him have to go to the bathroom.”

Dripping with condescension, the attendant also smugly maintained that she “knew the rules.” Not so much, as it turned out. A quick tweet to Delta revealed that pets are permitted to be fed and given water as long as they remain in their carrier.

On our most recent Delta trip, Benji and I were about to settle into our seat when one of the attendants snapped—

“I have nothing in my computer about any pets being on this flight.”

Really? Then how could we have even boarded the plane in the first place?

Delta typically validates ESAN paperwork for both segments of a round trip. The unnecessary drama in San Juan happened because approval was applied only to my outgoing flight. Meanwhile, American Airlines assured me that ESAN paperwork remains valid in their system for a year. Except, of course, after they decide to change one form a few months later without indicating as much on their website. The previous version has the exact same information from my doctor and yet I still had to fight with AA to accept it.

Each airline requires its own separate documentation. So if you are in the unfortunate position of forgetting to bring one airline specific form, don’t expect a competitor’s to suffice. During the Delta kerfuffle, I presented United’s two-page medical authorization form signed by my doctor as additional verification. They refused to accept it. I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve had to bother my doctor to fill out different forms that all say the exact same thing.

The inconsistencies in airline ESAN policies happen in flight as well. Some cabin attendants have said Benji must remain in his carrier. Others say only for takeoff and landing. Never mind that airline websites state your animal has to fit either in a carrier under your seat or on your lap.

I understand the need to prevent passengers from traveling with dangerous, ill-behaved animals. Especially in light of several incidents where people have taken advantage of the ESAN privilege to smuggle creatures like snakes and peacocks on board. Airlines have a right to demand that passengers claiming their pet is for emotional support have documentation to back it up. What they do not have the right to do is treat those of us who follow the constantly changing rules like we’re somehow at fault.

We deserve a lot better and so do our four-legged companions.



This post first appeared on New York City Gal | A Native New Yorker's Shared A, please read the originial post: here

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The Not So Pet Friendly Skies

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