Emotional Support Animal Attacks Passenger on Flight

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It has finally happened. An emotional support animal has attacked a passenger on an aircraft.

Last night, a passenger traveling on a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta was mauled by an emotional support animal.  The emotional support animal was identified as weighing “up to 50 pounds” and was seated on the owner’s lap.  The victim appeared to be “mauled” with facial injuries and a shirt “covered in blood”.

As we discussed last month, the number of passengers traveling with an emotional support animal has grown significantly in the United States.  This continues to be a divisive issue with strong defenders both in favor and opposed to the practice.  We are strongly opposed to the abuse of emotional support animal policies.  Our opinion on that has not changed and is strengthened by incidents such as this.

We received heavy commentary on the article we wrote last month.   Here is a sampling of the types of comments we received:

There should only be service animals for the below reasons:

  1. Guide animal—to guide the blind
  2. Hearing animal—to signal the hearing impaired
  3. Service animal—to do work for persons with disabilities other than blindness or deafness.

That’s it. You need to bring your pet guinea pig, bird, iguana, etc for “emotional support”? Guess what, NO.

If you need emotional support, you have three options:

  1. Fly with a buddy. (family, friend, a human being)
  2. Take medication
  3. Don’t fly and take another mode of transportation or fly in a private plane.

Just because you want to fly with your pet and are willing to lie about it means you are a terrible person, end of story.


I have 20 years of psychiatric bills to document my wife’s extreme anxiety. I support Emotional Support animals. However, we’d gladly pay for the dogs ticket, and avoid having to draw attention to my wife’s condition, if the dog was allowed to remain on her lap during the flight. Many use the ES card to maintain access to the dog, not to save money.


I have an ESA dog that I take with me but unlike a lot of people I have had my dog go through the AKC Canine Good Citizen training. This requires a six-week course and a 10 step test given by an authorized tester. The dog is then registered with AKC. There is no reason that training could not be adjusted for other animals. It should also be required before you are able to get the emotional support designation. You can also be considerate by choosing animals that are hypoallergenic, of which there are several breeds of dogs both small and large, as far as unrestrained animals there are hookups you can add to seatbelts and hook to your animal. It takes an understanding from both sides.


My daughter has a small service animal. She is trained to alert when my daughter is having a seizure. Unfortunately because of the size of her animal, people feel free to question, make snide remarks, and even touch the dog. My daughter is so stressed about the attention that she sometimes goes out without the dog. She justifies it by saying she isn’t alone, but the dog knows they’re a team and she gets anxious without my daughter nearby. What would help the situation is if you would understand that the reason you see more dogs is because they’re being trained to do new things all the time. I know a man whose dog senses when his sugar drops, and the dog sets off an alarm to alert others. The dog is a 5 pound Chihuahua. Stop judging. Try a little kindness.


We also received a number of private emails.  Several were from individuals who told us they had taken advantage of the emotional support animal exception to travel with their pets for free.  They told us that as long as the airlines allowed this, they would take advantage of the loophole.  (Some of these individuals were friends of ours… we were very surprised to find out they were doing this!)

One email we received was also intriguing.  The author told us that she travels with an emotional support animal for psychiatric reasons.  But she TELLS her colleagues and friends that she is just taking advantage of the loophole the airline creates so that she does not have to reveal her psychiatric condition.  “Its easier for me this way.  I’d rather people think I’d cheat the system than have them know I have a severe anxiety disorder.  I tell my colleagues I can’t bear to leave my pet at home so I bring him with me every week.  The reality is that I can’t fly without him.”

We think there are no easy answers to the emotional support animal issue.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim of last night’s attack.  But we hope that perhaps this incident will be a catalyst for airlines to thing about tightening regulations around how emotional support animal policies evolve in the future.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last eighteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Although she averages 200 days a year on the road, she loves to return to “the homestead” in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and cocktail mixology.

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Comments

  1. I’m curious, in case like this, is the animal owner held liable for the attack? Or is it the airline? Or the institution that declared the animal was an ESA?

    If in my next flight there’s a dog beside me and I got scared and pointed this article, will the FA kick me from the flight?

    • Based on the experience of the passenger of the we wrote about last month (see the second link), our best guess is that they would: a) attempt to reseat you, b) offer to reaccomodate you on a later flight. My money is on them NOT c) removing the ESA/owner (as they don’t want to deal with an ADA lawsuit!)

    • I have no doubt that this dog was not a “ESA” it was probably barking in the airport as well… that should be the first clue.

      • I don’t fly, and my GSD is so gentle, but because she is also my watch dog, I keep control of her at all times. Which means a leash outside the truck, and the meaning of NO! I hope because this one accident, responsible dog owners that truly need their ESD won’t be affected. It is so easy to make any dog an ESD, no one really checks if your psych, actually wrote the paper you need to register a dog. It could be just someone cheating the system, all it takes is one, to destroy a good thing.. My Girl is everything to me, my medicine, my protector, and best friend, lost hope in Pepole long time ago!

  2. I have personally watched flight attendants racing up and down the aisles, chasing after a Chihuahua which had escaped from his owner. That should not be their job.

  3. Written by someone who has no idea what’s it’s like to live with an invisible disability.

    Because of one incident? Do you want to ban cars, too, since they are so dangerous.

    My father died in a plane crash. Can’t have any more planes I guess.

    • Do you regularly make blind assumptions about the health status of others? I actually qualify to use a trained service animal, not an ESA, for something you’d never be able to visibly see either.

      “Regulating” and “banning” are not the same thing.

    • The dog was expressing aggressive behaviour to numerous people and viciously attacked someone, going for the throat. It is not just one incident. It is yet ANOTHER incident with untrained, ill tempered dogs being passed as helpers. And a dog that large never should have been in the mans lap.

  4. What did all of these people, who all of the sudden supposedly need ESAs, do before the airlines made this horrible loophole? Oh, that’s right, they got on the plane without the animal and strengthened their other coping mechanisms or paid or took another mode of transportation.

  5. As it said in the article, finaly ot happend. EMS animal atacked some on a flight. That leads me to believe that it rarely happens. The best would be to some how have the dogs temperment evaluated before a ticket purchase.

    • Exactly. We’ve never suggested an outright ban on ESAs. But we believe that more consistent guidelines need to be in place.

  6. I have a 67lb service dog and he curls up and tucks himself under the seat. I tuck his pack under my legs, come on people. They are working dogs not lap animals.

  7. Ok first off I have a service dog for my anxiety. I severe social anxiety and my life is easier since I spent the minimum of 20 hours a week. I rescued my service dog from the shelter. An Emotional Support Animal has NO PUBLIC ACCESS RIGHTS other than an airline and travel related lodging (hotels and motels) both require a medical letter dated no later than 1 year prior to needing the use either. All dogs should be trained, at least in obedience, like a service dog. They need to be well socialized with both people and animals. Cats, parrots and small animals can be destructive when away from home. Cat will claw furniture, parrots will chew wood items, and most small animals can’t be trained to use a litter box.
    No dog should even be in public of any kind if there is a faint hint of a safety issue. I understand the guy is a military veteran but any dog who under a fairly normal situation…handle not anxious or having a flashback should NOT even be fearful enough to attack someone, we may not have the full 100% story. What did the owner’s plane seat neighbor do to cause the dog to attack? Most people yes don’t understand dogs will not train them but barely. But no dog is supposed to be in public if it’s so aggressive or fearful it will eventually attack someone.

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