What the difference between a service dog and an emotional support animal?
A pregnant woman in South Florida is suing American Airlines after she said a flight attendant locked her dog in the bathroom during the last hour of a flight from Miami to Los Angeles.
Avigail Diveroli, 28, is suing for negligence and breech of contract after the airline caused her “mental anguish” during the April flight. She’s looking for at least $75,000 in damages.
The lawsuit was filed last week in Miami federal court.
Diveroli, who is pregnant and who says she suffers from severe anxiety, was flying business class to Los Angeles with her husband, her 87-year-old grandfather and her dog “Simba” from Miami International Airport. The lawsuit did not state the dog’s breed; the attorney representing the woman said Wednesday he did not know the dog’s breed.
The suit alleges a flight attendant named Regina locked Simba in a small bathroom for the last hour of the flight and repeatedly “slammed the dog, in its kennel, with the door to the bathroom.”
“After Plaintiff voiced her concern, indicating that she has severe anxiety, Regina stated that she does not care, and that everything she was doing was ordered by the captain,” the lawsuit states.
The attendant was “abusive” the entire trip, according to the lawsuit, and “forcefully downgraded” Diveroli to a different seat. The attendant also said comfort animals were against Federal Aviation Administration regulations and that Diveroli would be “cuffed” when the plane landed.
Emotional support animals on airlines fall under the U.S. Department of Transportation, and are allowed in the cabin, according to the federal agency’s website. The department last Thursday officially recognized miniature horses to be one of the most commonly recognized service animals besides cats and dogs. Airlines will have approximately 30 days to update their existing policies to comply with the new regulations.
The lawsuit alleges Simba was registered to fly with the airline as an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals have to be registered with an airline before a flight.
American Airlines said the dog wasn’t registered.
“Our professional crews are there to ensure the safety and comfort of all customers. In this case, the customer’s dog was traveling as a pet rather than an emotional support animal or service animal,” American Airlines said in an emailed statement.
The lawsuit comes after American rolled out a stricter policy on emotional support animals following the boom in passengers with service dogs and comfort animals. From 2016 to 2017, the number of American passengers who flew with service or support animals soared by 40 percent.
As of Wednesday, only dogs or cats qualify as an emotional support animal and the traveler has to submit all paperwork to American, including a mental health professional form attesting to the need for the animal, at least 48 hours before the flight’s departure, according to American.
The animals must also meet a list of requirements, which includes making sure the kennel — with the animal in it — fits under the seat and that the animal is not disruptive.
The lawsuit states Simba and his owners met all the requirements, but American Airline disagrees.
“FAA regulations require pets to stay in kennels that fit under the seat, however, this kennel didn’t fit under the seat,” read American’s statement. “The flight crew tried to handle the situation in accordance with FAA regulations. Also, this travel was booked on a 777, which doesn’t allow pets in the premium cabin. Our team at the airport in Miami offered to rebook the passenger on a later flight, but they declined, and opted to take a seat with the pet in the main cabin.”
Airlines often prohibit certain types of animals like snakes, animals that are too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin, those causing significant disruption of cabin service and those that are a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
To learn more about traveling with service animals and emotional support animals, visit the Department of Transportation’s website.
You can read the entire lawsuit below: