Emotional support animals and the passenger
Ekelem Airhihen, a trained mediator, chartered accountant, certified finance and IT consultant, certified in policy and public leadership, and an airport customer experience specialist, has an MBA from the Lagos Business School. He is a member, ACI Airport Non-aeronautical Revenue Activities Committee; and is certified in design and implementation of KPI for airports. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and +2348023125396 (WhatsApp only)
February 28, 2023201 views0 comments
Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are pets that provide emotional support and comfort so that individuals can deal with challenges which might in any way compromise the quality of life of the person. So the individual with mental or emotional condition can function normally on a daily basis with the presence of a dog or pet.
A passenger with a disabling mental illness may need to have a pet emotional support dog which will be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional. A therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist will have to determine that the presence of the animal is needed for the mental health of the patient.
The companionship these ESAs provide can be of great assistance in dealing with such conditions as anxiety, depression and some types of phobias, it is believed.
Wikipedia states that emotional support animals may be any type of pet, not just a dog. The American Disability Act is said not to recognise them as service animals.
“A service animal is defined as a dog that’s individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability, including but not limited to:Visual impairments; Deafness; Seizures; and Mobility impairments; Post-traumatic stress disorder”.
Airlines train their staff to ask questions to determine what qualifies as a service animal.
As Africans we still have religious and traditional beliefs that will need to be overcome for emotional support animals to gain wide acceptance. Owls and cats for instance are regarded with suspicion as belonging to the kingdom of darkness. Imagine the apprehension of passengers when such animals are taken on board a flight!
A search on emotional support animals further revealed that airline staff try to accommodate passengers with exceptional circumstances for which there is a need for animal assistance. A passenger in Nigeria with such a need should also make enquiries with Port Health and Quarantine Service ahead of travel date.
Where an ESA has not been individually trained as a psychiatric dog, or if they are an unusual species, the chance is high it will be viewed as a pet. It will then have to travel in the hold of the aircraft and will be subject to fees and the policies of the airline. It is important for the passenger to carry an official letter on ESA from a licensed mental health professional to help explain a person’s situation to staff who work for the airline one intends to travel with.
The pandemic came with the challenge of accepting emotional support animals and it does not seem to have been fully resolved. African airlines and airports should not lose sight of the ongoing discussion on this subject matter.
There have also been reports of abuse of ESA as a service such that passengers were coming along with peacocks and miniature horses as emotional support animals! Some schools of thought believe that emotional support animals affect the opportunity airlines have to increase profits as passengers are required to pay a pet fee so as to bring their emotional support animals into the cabin with them.
Anyone travelling with an emotional support animal such as a dog, cat or other pet should for instance, look for where there is enough space, like the front so the pet does not get stressed. Ensure the ESA is in good health before travelling also. It can be distressing for a passenger to see his or her pet in distress. This can increase the passenger’s anxiety as well as have a negative effect on the mental health of the individual. Train the animal to be well behaved as animals with disruptive behaviour will not be allowed to stay with the owner and so will have to be checked as a pet. All required documentation will be very important while the passenger should also call the airline, a few days to travel, to find out if there are other specific requirements for the travel with an ESA.
The world is becoming a global village and we need not as Africans think the ESA challenge may not become a common practice. The issues and challenges from this practice should catch our attention too.
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