In light of the recent attack of a flight attendant by a so-called emotional support dog, it is time to ban these animals from U.S. commercial flights.
Let’s start by identifying the problem. Year after year, attack after attack, we see that emotional support animals (ESAs) constitute a safety wildcard onboard commercial flights. Most of the time, the little critters behave just fine find and pose little to no risk. But on hundreds of well-documented occasions, these ESAs have attacked other passengers or crewmembers, creating a climate of fear and hostility.
It is also appropriate to mention here that it is very simple to obtain a doctor’s note for an ESA online and such notes are routinely used to avoid pet cargo fees, as ESAs fly free under current U.S. federal law.
We should approach this issue sober-mindedly and without animus, not charged with emotion. We face a problem and there are several ways to handle it. Why is a blanket ban, a so-called bright-line rule necessary in this case? Isn’t that a draconian response?
Why Bright-Line Rules Are Helpful
Allow me to make an analogy. Bright-line rules offer a compelling alternative to vague standards, often reflecting a summary of wise decisions. If people over the age of 60 are banned from piloting commercial airplanes, it is because such policy represents a generally accurate summary of good individual decisions, and is much less costly to administer than any alternative. (Just think about the expenditures that would be necessary to assess competence on a case-by-case basis.). These rules do not summarize individually wise decisions, but rather express a social judgment about valuations and relations.
Rules facilitate decision-making by laying out the framework within which they can be made, thereby freeing up time for other matters. The purpose of a rule is not itself a rule; but rather a justification that may not settle all cases before the fact, but does ground expectations in a narrower outcome. Rules can, in short, provide the most efficient way to proceed, saving time and effort while simultaneously lessening the risk of error in a particular case.
To return to my pilot analogy, an airline may derive abundant short-term benefit from keeping an experienced pilot beyond a predetermined retirement age; but such a decision will likely lead to high long-term costs from having to monitor every pilot individually and from insuring against mistaken decisions. A pervasive problem in modern regulation is that members of a regulated class face ambiguous and conflicting guidelines, so that they do not know how to plan.
Put simply, bright-line rules are not perfect, but represent a lesser of two imperfect policy choices.
A Bright-Line Rule For ESAs
Facing the threat of continued attacks onboard, it is time for a bright-line rule banning emotional service animals…or at least dogs…from commercial flights.
What about those who truly need these critters? The veterans? The wounded. Here’s where I will willingly concede, again, that this policy is not perfect. Just like the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) was a necessary step to safeguard the rights of those with disabilities to fully participate in public life, so should the advantages and disadvantages of any ESA ban be weighed.
But without dismissing those who claim to need such animals in order to fly, ask yourself why most of the rest of the world manages to survive without such rights. Are Americans unique in that respect?
There are many ways to cope with stress. Just like smoking is one but is banned because it disturbs others, so should emotional support animals be banned because of their potential harm to others.
I truly want to stress that I don’t have a dog in this fight…literally or figuratively. But I do see an escalating problem that requires addressing. A laissez faire approach is not working. It is time to ban ESAs on utilitarian grounds.
Finally, please note that trained service animals (guide dogs) are not emotional support animals. My envisioned ban certainly does not cover these dogs.
What do you think about ESAs onboard airplanes? Did I convince you?