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Airlines Struggle to Balance Passenger Safety with Need for Service Dogs


If you have flown recently, you may have noticed the increase in dogs in airports and on flights. While some travelers claim these animals provide a valuable service, others insist it infringes on their own rights. A trained, licensed service dog is unlikely to lash out, but untrained companion dogs increase the risk of dog bites and other types of personal injuries. As the public debates the merits of these animals, airlines seek to strike a balance to avoid accommodating the special needs of some passengers while jeopardizing the safety of others.

Therapy Dog Controversy

According to Disability Rights Florida, federal laws define service animals as any dog specifically trained to assist and perform tasks for owners with physical, emotional, intellectual, or sensory disabilities. Provided the dog meets this definition, it does not have to be specially licensed or certified through state or national agencies. It is this lack of oversight that has created a problem, both for airlines and their passengers. There is suspicion that the therapy dog designation is used by some as a way to avoid paying the expensive ticketing fees and boarding costs involved with animal travel.

According to a July 2018 USA Today report, passenger airlines carried more than one million animals over the course of 2017, which include 750,000 designated as providing ‘comfort’, with another 300,000 providing ‘service’. The number of dogs on flights has increased so significantly over the past several years that airline officials have recently gotten more strict about their service animal policies, including ruling out specific breeds. Delta Airlines recently advised that they would no longer accept pitbulls, who have a reputation for being more aggressive than other breeds, as service animals on their flights. While this sparked an outcry among some animal rights activities, others support the policy in the interest of public safety.

Injuries Caused By Service Animals

Licensed service animals undergo many hours of training before being placed with an owner and are unlikely to attack unprovoked. In contrast, you can obtain an online certificate from various companies stating that your dog provides service or therapy, with no proof of training or other oversight. A service animal who is not properly qualified is easy to spot: they tend to pull away from their owners, get distracted by other animals, or may growl and bark at random people they encounter.

USA Today reports that these animals can end up causing serious injuries for other passengers. In addition to the risk of dog bites, they can cause serious scratches and trigger asthma attacks or other allergic reactions. In these situations, the Florida Statutes allow the dog owner to be held accountable.

Reach Out to Us Today for Help

If you have been attacked or otherwise harmed by a supposed service animal on a flight or in some other public place, the Law Firm of William E. Raikes, III can help you get the compensation you need to recover. Contact our Fort Pierce dog bite attorney today to request a consultation.


The Law Office of William E. Raikes III is located in Fort Pierce, FL and serves clients in and around the communities of Fort Pierce, Port Saint Lucie and Vero Beach.

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