Woman says service dog denied flight out of FLL amid crackdown on emotional support animals on planes

(WSVN) - The feds have tightened the leash when it comes to animals on board airplanes. One woman trying to fly out of Fort Lauderdale says she was grounded because of the confusion over the new rules. The Nightteam’s Karen Hensel has tonight’s 7 Investigates.

A woman tried to bring a peacock on a plane saying it was her emotional support animal.

Woman: “I’m not kidding. This woman is wrangling her peacock into the airport.”

Then, there was this furry flyer, Daisy the emotional support squirrel, forced off a flight in Orlando.

Squirrel owner: “I said you’re not taking my squirrel, sorry.”

Emotional support animals from pigs to ducks had been allowed to fly for free, but some passengers took advantage.

Barb Page, investigator, Disability Rights Florida: “There has been abuse of emotional support animals and service animals, and it has made it increasingly difficult for people who have true service animals.”

That’s why the U.S. Department of Transportation cracked down on the free-for-all.

New rules allow airlines to ban emotional support animals, and they make clear “a service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.”

Reba Barker (holds up dog): “This is Nimbus.”

Reba Barker says she depends on her small dog Nimbus.

He is trained to detect when she’s about to have a panic attack.

Reba Barker, says service dog denied flight: “He alerts me to let me know that I need to take medicine before I have a full blown attack.”

In December, she says she had to cancel her JetBlue flight out of Fort Lauderdale after being questioned about the dog.

Reba Barker: “It’s on my ticket: service animal and wheelchair. I always do that when I book my flight online. Then, I call the disability section, and they write it in and assign me a seat.”

Reba, who says she suffers from several medical conditions, feels she mistakenly got caught up in the debate over service versus emotional support dogs.

Reba Barker: “They asked, you know, ‘Is that a service dog?’ And I said ‘Yeah, he’s a service dog.’ ‘Well, what service does he provide?’ And I said ‘Medical alert,’ and he goes, ‘What do you mean medical alert? There’s no such thing as medical alert.’ I said ‘What do you mean? It’s medical alert. He alerts me to a medical condition.'”

Karen Hensel: “And you didn’t want to share your medical information.”

Reba Barker: “Well, it’s none of their business.”

Barb Page: “Nobody’s specific diagnosis has to be disclosed ever. The employees at the airport can ask if it’s a service animal for a person with a disability and what has the dog been trained to do?”

JetBlue, in a statement to 7 Investigates, said crew members “engaged the customer asking standard and permitted questions about the specific task the animal was trained to perform. The customer provided conflicting and unclear information.”

The airline says it gave Reba options, including allowing the dog to fly as an “in-cabin pet,” but that costs money.

Reba declined, and the airline refunded her for the flight.

If this happens to you, you do have options before the flight.

Barb Page: “In a pinch, I would certainly ask for an ADA coordinator, a supervisor from the airline, just trying to resolve something on the spot.”

Reba was able to get a flight on another airline. If you plan to travel with your service dog, the new rules can be confusing, so we have links and more information down below.

U.S. Department of Transportation’s ruling regarding air travel of service animals

U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form

Service Animal Final Rule FAQs

Read U.S. Department of Transportation’s full ruling

CONTACT 7INVESTIGATES:
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954-921-CLUE
clue@wsvn.com

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