Emotional support animals could kill you

Emotional support animals could kill you
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On August 2, 2005 Air France 358 landed in Toronto and skidded off the runway, causing the plane to break apart and erupt in flames. Even with several exits blocked, flight attendants were able to safely evacuate all 309 people and in less than 90 seconds. 

Emirates flight 521 crashed on landing in Dubai on August 3, 2016, and the plane immediately caught fire. As the fire quickly intensified, flight attendants worked to get every passenger and crew member off the plane in less than 90 seconds. There were no fatalities among the 300 passengers on board.

The reason we have such incredible accounts on record stems from the fact that airplanes, in order to be approved for commercial passenger service, must be able to demonstrate that every passenger can be safely evacuated in 90 seconds or less — with half of the exits blocked.

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The 90-second rule has saved countless lives over the decades. But now, with the arrival of the emotional support animal craze, that long standing safety benchmark is in question.

On August 8, 2019 the Department of Transportation released guidelines for airline acceptance of emotional support animals. Within the report they prevent airlines from placing a limit on the number of emotional support animals on any flight and stated that some passengers might require “up to three” such animals when they fly. With the growing number of passengers with support animals, it quickly becomes clear that the 90-second evacuation rule is now at risk and airplane passengers are in potential danger.  

Air travel is expected to double over the next 20 years, according to the International Air Transport Association. If we have more travelers and more emotional support animals flying as well, the likelihood of a successful 90-second emergency exit seems less likely. After all, if you have 300 passengers flying, with 15 of those passengers with emotional support animals such as miniature horses and large dogs, the idea that every creature can approach the exits quickly and then jump onto an emergency evacuation slide in less than 90 seconds seems unlikely.

The Federal Aviation Administration is (rightfully) adamant about keeping the emergency exits and aisles clear in case of an emergency. But can you imagine a few miniature horses stuck in the narrow aisle of an aircraft during an emergency evacuation when every second is precious? And exactly how are we to instruct these 300-pound animals to successfully exit the plane by jumping onto an emergency evacuation slide? 

Passengers and their safety should come first, but there are examples where it is instead animals first and passengers second. On April 14, 2019 a man was seated in his First Class seat when a fellow passenger boarded with her emotional support dog and sat next to him. The man was highly allergic to dogs and asked for assistance. The American Airlines crew informed the man that he could sit in in coach or be removed from the plane. He protested and was kicked off the plane, as the dog took precedence over the other First Class passenger. Animals are first and passengers are secondary concerns.

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We should not ban approved emotional support animals from flying. But in the interest of passenger safety, we need to limit the number of such to protect the safety of others flying. A failure to do so will cost us lives.

I totally understand the reluctance of the Department of Transportation to limit the number of such animals used by those with emotional needs or disabilities, or both. But some limitations must be put into place in order to protect the greater good. 

If we are serious and safety is the number one priority in commercial air travel, we need to protect both passengers and emotional support animals by placing some limit on the number that are permitted to fly on each aircraft.

Jay Ratliff spent over 20 years in management with Northwest/Republic Airlines, including as aviation general manager. He is an IHeart aviation analyst.