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Are the airlines primarily at fault for the ESA Emotional Support Animal problem? I think so!

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Is this dog an ESA for real or is it a fake one - who knows
Is this a real or fake ESA? Who knows!

Airlines in April were blasted over and over and rightfully so. United’s actions were truly reprehensible including the killing of the “mega bunny“. Delta, with their 3rd massive service disruption that took the better part of a week to fix was also shameful as well as the lame excuses that followed.

fee to bring a pet onboard delta
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But another problem that has really been a hot button topic this year has been ESA or Emotional Support Animals. Why have we seen such an “explosion” of folks with red vests on their pets when they fly? It could be because of the above and:

“Your pet counts as one piece of carry-on baggage. Pet in Cabin fees still apply.”

Think about this for a bit. You not only are paying $125 ONE-WAY, with no discount for holding the Delta co-branded AMEX cards, and you lose out on the ability to have a carry-on bag as well. OUCH! (btw United Airlines $125 and American Airlines $125 and Southwest $95 and the last one calls it a “Pet Fare” rather than just yet another fee 😉 )

Some folks are saying people are getting “fake” certifications for their pets. Well, I have to tell you, if I had to pay $250 each round trip for my pet to fly I would very possibly develop a condition that would need some kind of calming therapy to keep me from losing it completely (maybe you would too)!

And that is my point really. I am in no way condoning folks who lie to get an ESA exception letter when they truly don’t need it. But at the same time how can the airlines – with a straight face – ever justify such a massive fee to bring a pet on-board and especially when they are killing so many in their care year after year in the cargo holds (btw Delta now no long allows pets as cargo on passenger jets – with a few exceptions)?

So how do the airlines fix this “fee” disgrace? The way they always do with added incentives for people to always fly just one airline if they have pets. For example, give a discount if the pet owner holds the co-branded Delta AMEX card. Or, make it so that if you are a Delta Silver Medallion elite (or higher) you get a pet “fee waver” free each flight. I can imagine a leisure traveler would strive for at least this lowest Delta elite level and only fly Delta if they offered this perk!

The bottom line is the shameful kind of fees the airlines are charging is clearly driving people to desperate measures and possibly even dishonest ones to avoid these nasty and high fees or pet fares. Make them more reasonable and the problem will fix itself. Don’t you agree? – René

Are the airlines are primarily at fault for the ESA Emotional Support Animal problem

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

René de Lambert is a contributing writer and the founder of RenesPoints. He is an avid Delta and SkyTeam flyer who has held Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status for many years and flown millions of miles.


  1. I get your point but society is at fault for this. I wonder how we ever survived as a group of people before Facebook, Snapchat, ESA’s and smart phones.

  2. Well, airlines were made for human. Eventough some human needs certain animal for emotional reason, some human are allergic to animal for healthy/medical reason as well. If you are able to pay for animal cost as emotional support, you surely able to pay for the animal fares (cost). If you are not willing, travel by land or sea.

  3. People are taking advantage of this to the point of total abuse. A true service dog to assist a blind or otherwise disabled passenger is one thing. But if you need your pet to fly I would suggest you try another means of travel. This is no different than perfectly healthy people using their grandma’s handicapped sticker to get a better parking spot. You can’t put your pocketbook on the floor of the bulkheads, but an 80 lb black lab is OK? Can I claim my wife as my “ESA” so she can fly free well? She’s cute, lovable and housebroken. 😉

  4. GetToThePoints Reply

    1- I don’t understand the poll question
    2- I think you should research the ESA subject and it’s rules perhaps writing a through article on thematter.

  5. The Civil Areonautics Board bears primary blame. Emotional Support Animals do not have public access. But thanks to a CAB ruling ESAs are allowed on planes.

    Simply put: Where pets are not allowed, ESAs are not allowed. Not restaurants. Not malls. Not the local hardware store. Not the airport lounge.

    The CAB however, has ruled that a passenger may fly with his/her pet if he/she has a letter from a Physician (readily available online) stating that he/she benefits emotionally from the animal.

    In its present form it’s a bad rule because no proof of team training or certification is required. Such a requirement would help ensure that teams won’t be a nuisance to the public.

    But the airlines do bear some of the responsibility. Because they do not know the law, they allow ESA bad behavior to go unchecked. I have lost count of how many times I have reported inappropriate behavior to Delta Sky Club staff who refused to show the animal the door.

    Service dogs DO have public access. But even service dog teams can and should be shown the door when they behave inappropriately. Bad behavior, human or animal is not protected.

  6. The assumption being that the airlines aren’t actively encouraging the ESA thing because other passengers complain about too many pets, but they also know if people are allowed to fly with pets they’re more likely to fly. Amtrak bans ESAs on many many routes, so the ADA excuse is actually questionable.

  7. I think that some of the ESA debate is missing one factor. Most comments, not just on this post as we all know, will say something to the tune of “If you can’t go on a 2 hour flight without your pet”… But for someone who as an ESA, it likely isn’t about just the flight. If they are flying away for a week, or to go to a funeral, or a stressful trip, the ESA is just as necessary while they are away from home. The question as to whether ESAs should be included as service animals or banned as pets is not an easy one to solve, but please remember that there are true cases of true need, and just getting through the flight isn’t the only reason to bring an ESA.

    Also, as someone who qualifies for a true ESA based on disability, I despise the amount of fake certificates available – all that industry is doing is ruining a benefit some of us truly need.

  8. This issue is impacting other sectors of the economy, specifically rental housing. As a it pertains to airlines, I’ve never understood how I can’t have peanuts because the person next to me might be allergic, but they can have a cat even if I am allergic 🙂

  9. VauleInvestor Reply

    It is really at least two questions; 1. Should airlines treat ESA’s as service animals? 2. Should airlines charge a higher “pet” fee for ESA’s?

    The widespread abuse of ESA certification will require airlines to charge a higher fee, if the animals should be allowed at all.

  10. @ValueInvestor I don’t believe it would be legal for airlines to charge a fee to bring an ESA on board- similar to how you can’t charge a tenant a pet fee if the animal is certified.

  11. Amy, I too despise the fake ESAs. Without national guidelines and required certification the problem will grow.

    Assistance Dogs International (ADI) certifies teams that can meet their demanding standards.

    Dogs bred and trained by Canine Companions for Independence are ADI certified. Team handlers carry photo identification for themselves and their dogs.

    Until dogs are retired, teams are constantly reevaluated by CCI to ensure that they are able to perform the tasks for which they have been trained. CCI dogs carry a $3 million liability insurance policy.

    Learn more at

  12. Tom Peacock Reply

    What abt veterans with pstd why shouldn’t they have n esa if needed on a plane to stay clam after all u can’t say it not a disability just cus u can’t see it

  13. The problem for me is not the fee. Actually making the fee lower would encourage more people to bring badly trained animals on. At least ESA animal owners are very respectful. I have a ESA animal cert which I openly admit I bought even though I am emotionally normal for the simple reason that If I do have to fly with my 55 lb dog, there is no way in hell I will once again risk a x in 10,000 shot of him dying on that flight. I have 2 homes one in hawaii and one on mainland. I checked him once. I bought the biggest crate they would allow on the flight. But the whole ordeal was so traumatizing, he soiled his cage, bloodied him self all up trying to escape, and was completely wiped on arrival. Never again will I do that. Now When I fly with him, I buy the entire row, a seat for myself and 2 “xtra seats” so that he doesn’t inconvenience anyone by taking their legroom. People without tolerance for ESA animals are the real problem. Those people should be institutionalized because they are the DYKWIA self centered conceited people who lack empathy and are parasitic opportunists without regard for anything but themselves.

  14. evan,
    Thank you for buying the extra seats for your ESA – insuring non-ESA flyers aren’t impacted. Unfortunately, most ESA owners do not or can not and therein lies the negative impact to other travelers. FWIW, it is impossible for someone not needing an ESA to be empathetic with someone who does. We could however be more sympathetic as you could to non ESA flyers. Have a nice day.

  15. THIS IS A SUBJECT VERY CLOSE TO MY LUNGS. I have severe asthma, for the last 64 years, and I cannot be near an animal that sheds for a prolonged period. In the last 30 days I have had to DOWNGRADE from Delta 1st class to comfort + on 2 occasions because of dogs scattered throughout the 1st class cabin. It amazes me that ESA do not have to be registered at the time the flight is booked considering that the people are claiming that they can’t fly without the support animal. For one flight I called Delta 3 hours before departure and asked if any animals were registered for the flight. None were. At the gate I found out that there were FIVE emotional support animals and ALL were within 2 rows of my seat. Absurd that they register the dog when they arrive at the airport and check-in. I could write about this for hours and show you photos of me wearing hazmat gear on one flight when there were no seats available to me to switch to. If anyone wants to contact me in regard to this issue, please feel free. sgroman at

  16. Some of u r missing the real reason most of us must travel with our animals its not so we can fly, its so much more deeper than that. Its to help either anxiety or even suicide prevention. And its not just delta, the entire world over charging for everything, rich getting richer.. I do wish the facks of the world would stop, its screwing the honestly disabled. From pain management to ESA …..btw poster 6, they can not legally deny ESA s or dogs for the blind etc….if the big business would stop over charging for everything maybe just maybe people wouldn’t be so quick to abuse the rules. Just saying…

  17. dot cahill Reply

    If you need two pets( or more) to travel you really need to stay home or drive!!!!

  18. I’ll weigh in here since I have a kitty with me about 80% of the time, at least. I admit I have an ESA letter, although I rarely use it, and the one time I did call Delta to use it, they never asked for it at check-in. MY reason for having that letter is the totally ridiculous $125 each way fee! AND I lose my carry on also. I also admit, but will deny, that I just walk on with my animal most of the time as I can’t check in online or upgrade in advance if I have the animal on my reservation. I do animal transport, and show pedigreed cats all over the country/world, so my added fees would really pile up. As far as I know, my animals have never caused any issues as they are quiet, and mostly sleep during flight. Most of the cat exhibitors I know do this, mainly due to the fee, which was $50 each way when I started showing cats. That is at least doable! Maybe those are BS excuses, but a result of the greed of the airlines….right or wrong.

  19. I am highly allergic to certain dogs and cats. It is not as simple as taking an antihistamine either. I don’t understand why animals don’t have to be pre-registered. Lap children have to be pre-registered. It’s only fair that I find that out before I get to the airport because I am the one who has to change flights. I also don’t understand why I have to change flights and not the one who brings the animal, rightly or wrongly, on board. It should not be as simple as buying a certificate online.

  20. Wow Rene, can of worms on this one. I have been on many flights with ESA and other professional dogs, cadaver, military and police. MY experience with the professional dogs has been excellent however I am fortunate enough to not be allergic. As far as the ESA, my experience is almost 100% lies. I even know an IT consultant who filed for an ESA and brings her dog on the road every week. How nice to leave a dog in a hotel room while you are off at work. I think those that abuse, in my experience, the majority, are really hurting those that are really in need. Of course I do not suffer from the kind of anxiety so I do not understand why a Xanax for a week while on a trip or sleeping aids for an animal being stored as baggage would be such an issue. Why do the people who want animals need to make the allergic, afraid and annoyed suffer. I certainly wouldn’t want to pay for a first class seat and sit next to a pinhead who just can’t bring themselves to kenneling their pet so they lie and get a certificate. I think if you want to be in plus seats, you buy the row otherwise the airlines could segregate animals to a section like they used to do for smokers, in the back so allergy sufferers can be up front away from what triggers them. I can appreciate the need for the ESA, especially the vets but I think the system is abused and should be checked.

  21. I am disabled and in the process of getting an ESA. A dog. I appreciate that the airlines accept them but I would never fly with my dog. It is too difficult to take care of myself, let alone an animal. I don’t understand how disabled people can do it.

  22. ESA Advocate Reply

    I wish people weren’t so callous and manipulative. I don’t like people with those fake ESA vests and certificates, because they’ve made it so much more anxiety-inducing for someone like me to travel. People who think, “stay at home if you can’t be without your ESA” or “go by land if you’re that desperate” are callous, and there’s no way they aren’t. I’ve been beaten by my parents when I was a child, among other things, and also abused and taken advantage of by other people after that, so some can probably understand a few of my anxieties, especially without my ESA. If I had it my way, I’d never leave the house. I would just be at home with my ESA, happily. But I realize that healing from my past demands that I go out to see friends and family, even if I don’t want to, to see the better side of humanity and be able to trust again. Having my dog by my side helps me, so much, especially with sleeping at night. She makes my days so much easier because of her companionship. But people who have never lived through abuse sometimes have difficulty understanding what it’s like to be so afraid of other people, and the importance of such a creature who gives me so much comfort and meaningful days. I don’t know how to solve this issue, but I think if people were allowed their well-behaved pets in the cabin instead of the cargo, it would be much easier for all of us. Of course, there are those who are allergic, but also, people already have pet dander and pollen and all kinds of allergens on their clothes and belongings. Maybe it would help to require pets to be bathed and groomed prior to the flight, and have allergic people sit in the front or back to separate them from pets.

  23. John Miller Reply

    I thought Delta already did waive fees for dogs when upgraded or in 1st. I’ve taken my golden Jake cross-country numerous times and can’t recall having to pay this so-called fee. Maybe it’s the airports I’ve used or the miles I’ve racked up, or because he’s [so cute] and the folks at check-in are too busy ooh’ing and aah’ing over him to remember the fee.

  24. I was recently on a flight in which both husband and wife brought a service dog on board. How wonderful that two people with the same affliction found each other. It would have been nice if they could have comforted each other without the dogs.

  25. Deanna Chute Reply

    If it wasn’t so unreasonably expensive to travel with your pet, I’m sure that there would not be this abuse.
    It only costs me $25 to check a bag but $125 to bring my dog. That’s obscenely CRAZY! No airline personnel ever handles the dog, I give up one of my two carry-ons, I never take her out of her carrier, she doesn’t make a peep and no one even knows she’s there.
    So, I have a ESA letter for my 8 pound dog. I don’t like it. I’d rather just pay a reasonable fee. But the alternative is $250 and that is absurd.
    If the airline charged a reasonable fee – like a baggage fee – I would be thrilled to tear up that ESA letter. I am sure I am not alone.

  26. I think that there should be a totally different approach to ESA. It is a medical condition and the airlines should be allowed to charge just as if it were any pet. But the mentally ill passenger (and that is a quote from the rules) should be permitted to get reimbursed from their medical plan. I’ll bet that the insurance companies will do a very good job of weeding out those fakers.

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