British Airways Being Sued After Denying Boarding To Emotional Support Dogs

Filed Under: British Airways

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the U.S. Department of Transportation was considering addressing phony emotional support animals. While I don’t disagree with the need for certain service animals, I think we can all agree that at least some people take advantage of this easy opportunity to travel with pets, without a legitimate “emotional” need (I’m not saying that’s all, or even most people, but certainly some).

While I won’t pass judgment in this particular case, there’s an interesting story of a lady who is suing British Airways after an airport agent didn’t let her take her two emotional support animals on the plane.

This lawsuit is regarding a July 2015 OpenSkies flight from Paris to New York, where Sharon Kao, a fashion executive, was traveling with her two Maltese dogs.


She had no trouble flying with the dogs from New York to Paris, though it wasn’t quite as seamless on the return flight. Here’s what happened, according to The Daily Mail:

When trying to board the flight back home, she showed the same letter to a supervisor who ‘proceeded to scream [at her] in front of her husband’.

When Ms Kao attempted to show the staff member tried to read out British Airway’s policy on disabilities, she was allegedly told: ‘I don’t care what it says.

‘I am in charge and I decide if you can fly on my airline.’

The lawsuit says that Ms Kao then started to have trouble breathing and asked for medical attention.

After she handed her pets over to her husband while she was treated by paramedics, it’s claimed the supervisor added: ‘See, I knew you did not need the dogs.’

As a result of the incident, Ms Kao claims to suffer from ‘mental anguish, severe emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life and other emotional damages.’

She’s seeking an unspecified sum in damages, among other things, for “loss of enjoyment of life.”

While I’m not sure if the laws are different in France, I know in the U.S. questioning the validity of someone’s emotional support animal is a big no-no. So if it’s similar in France, the supervisor was way off base legally. Still, I wonder how much that’s really worth in terms of monetary damages…

(Tip of the hat to John)

  1. If she already has ptsd she should be trained to defuse bombs and sent to afghanistan. Not much more damage can happen to her anyway.

  2. Threatening somebody to such a severity that they have a panic attack and paramedics are called should be worth something. Who benefits by a crackdown on emotional support animals? Nobody, really. Who is harmed? People who actually need the animals. As if anxiety isn’t crippling enough!

  3. Oh, so she needs 2 dogs? Who wrote the letters? It is really time for some Government agency to put some rules on this. If you are an organ donor, it shows in your driver’s license. Maybe make people that need support dogs should get some official agency to add that to their passport as well as have real documentation for the animal. Today it is very easy for anyone to get a piece of paper they need to bring whatever animal they want on board because they “need” them.

  4. Damages are usually quite low in France. It’s a very different legal system. I don’t even think you could get more than 10k EUR.

    From the article:
    “According to federal-court lawsuit filed in New York, USA”

  5. I travel all the time and I’ve seen tons of people with emotional support animals and I’ve never known one to make a fuss or cause a problem. Humans without animals on the other hand…

  6. I think if I tried to take any of my animals on a plane they would be the ones needing emotional support.

  7. Crapppp in Europe this emotional fuss not gonna work and thanks God Europeannjustice system dont like this suing anglosaxon system.

  8. If she has the documentation in order they allow it or that is what they write on, what ever I or y’all think about support animals is not important in this regard.

  9. What if someone with a pet-hair allergy is forced to be on the same flight? And let’s assume this dogs stink a lot which may cause heavy troubles for the allergic person, even sitting several rows away?!

    How would the airline decide then?

    I ask cause my auntie has unfortunately this kind of allergy.

  10. BA’s policy is pretty clear: “An assistance dog is one which has been specifically trained to assist a disabled person and certified by an organisation that is a full member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI) or International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF), the accrediting bodies for assistance dog organisations worldwide. Emotional support dogs that are not recognised as assistance dogs by the above organisations are not allowed to travel in the cabin. In this case, please book your dog to travel as a domestic pet.”

    I find customer service in Paris is typically like this – rude, unreasonable and lacking in any logic, so the description wouldn’t surprise me and I’d be just as frustrated.

  11. I have never come across such a thing as an emotional support animal in the UK, nevermind anyone who would need to take them on a plane? With enough money and the right contacts you can find a doctor to write anything you want on a letter.
    If you’ve got PET dogs, do the responsible thing and arrange proper care for them whilst you are away. If you travel a lot or for long periods, be responsible and don’t have animals.

    Genuine assistance animals (hearing/seeing dogs) fine. “emotional support” – on this I call bollocks.
    And why does she “need” two!?
    The number of people these days who have “panic attacks” (aka getting overly dramatic for attention seeking purposes rather than a genuine panic attack) over NOTHING is getting ridiculous. Grow up and get on with life, Lord knows how they would cope with real stress.

  12. Karim J its not BA but OpenSkies here are what the write – just to be clear in context:

    You need to produce valid documentation which is dated within one year of your scheduled flight.

    You will need to provide a letter on headed paper from a licensed mental health professional or a medical doctor specifying your mental or emotional disability. The letter must state the following:
    •You have a mental health related disability, recognised in the diagnostic and statistical manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSMIV).
    •You need emotional support or psychiatric service from an accompanying animal during air travel and/or for activity at your destination.
    •That the individual providing the assessment is a licensed mental health professional and you are registered under his or her professional care.
    •The date and type of the mental health professional’s license and the state or other jurisdiction in which it was issued.
    •If you are travelling with an Emotional Support Animal, you should plan to check in for your flight at the airport one hour before the advertised check-in time, so that your documentation can be verified.
    •All of the criteria above must be met before we can accept your emotional support or psychiatric service animal for travel, free of charge, in the cabin. If you do not meet the criteria, the animal will travel as a pet in the cabin or cargo hold at the applicable rates.

  13. Two dogs? So what is I follows all BA policies and produce a letter verifying that I need 5, 10, or 20 dogs to be with me in the plane as emotional support animals?

  14. UK & EUROPE does not recognize emotional support animals, only service animals.

    I flew my dog from the US to the UK when I moved, he went in the hold, but while doing research United looked like the only one that allowed emotional support animals in the cabin.

    BA, VS, DL all said the same thing, any animal in the hold unless a real service dog.

  15. Emptional support animals? Ridiculous. Talk about privilege. I doubt she lost any enjoyment of life that couldn’t be replaced by a pair of shoes … “Ms. Fashion Executive”.

    Millions of people dying from hunger and she cant travel without 2 dogs? Puhlease.

  16. From someone who spent 2 sleepless nights at the Ari hotel in Las Vegas (during CES last week) while someones “Emotional Support” Maltipoo was left unattended for 7 hours in their room and barked itself into hysteria for 7 long hours – I have little support for this sort of thing. For people with true physical disabilities I think these animals are amazing and life changing. For people who can’t leave their houses because they emotionally need their dog with them… – I’m not convinced that 99% of these people are trying to find ways to skirt fees and rules. I think this loophole should be shut down.

  17. I didn’t realize emotional support animals were allowed on international flights. When I moved from Italy back to the USA ten years ago with a cat (traveling in cargo) I had a ton of paperwork and quarantine issues to deal with upon entry to the USA. Wonder how these animals avoid the same health issues I had to deal with for my cat?

  18. Fashion executive with two Maltese as ’emotional support animals’?

    Fortunately, in Europe this sh*t won’t fly!

  19. “Loss loss of enjoyment of life” over being deprived of her dogs for an 8 hour flight or being humiliated by an airline employee? If the latter, this person could use a thicker skin a lot more than she needs emotional support animals.

  20. “As a result of the incident, Ms Kao claims to suffer from ‘mental anguish, severe emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life and other emotional damages.’”. BUL**IT

    if you got all this you are not in conditions to travel and you must stay home !

  21. SW lets these people with the fake dogs get on first with the wheel chair passengers. There is no reason for this. This is cheating passengers who have paid extra to board early to choose their seats.

  22. This “emotional support” B.S. has to stop. You %$#%$# Goose/Snake/Chicken/Dog with its nails painted and manicured is complete crap. The doctors writing these bogus prescriptions need to face charges, as do the people that abuse this problem. 99% of people with emotional support animals are abusing the system and cause the rest of us to universally hate the very few that might actually need one. Know that if you bring one of these things to a restaurant/airplane/inappropriate place, EVERYONE hates you!

  23. Those of you calling BS on emotional support animals in the way you are, are completely ignorant to the affect of anxiety and depression and how it hampers people.

    I have a girlfriend of 9 years who has this debilitating problem; she describes it like being trapped inside of a wall, unable to move; no matter how hard you scream no one can hear you.

    She functions because of our dog, who is hypoallergenic, and better behaved than 99% of the screaming children on a plane. He doesn’t kick your seat, scream, or bark and he allows her to function. When we tell him to sit, he sits; I don’t complain about poorly parented kids who don’t listen or behave.

    Now I’ll agree, she probably doesn’t need two, but she can’t separate them. It’s a reason we only have 1 dog.

    Before you bash what an emotional support animal is, do a little research and learn therer are people who legitimately require one.

  24. @Alex: You can get billions in damages in France. It’s just a question of proofing the extent of the damage. If someone destroys your prized race car worth $12 million, you can get $12 million in France.

    A damage will be repaired completely, but just the damage will be repaired. If your prized race car has only a scratch, you will be awarded the cost, that it takes to repair said scratch. You can’t claim punitive damages and as a result of the legal rules in France, moral damages are very limited. So demanding additional damages to cope with the emotional distress isn’t going to get you very far.

  25. From the information in the article her husband was travelling with her, couldn’t he supply the emotional support she needs for a 5-6 hour flight probably in business class?

  26. I think it’s a well known thing that the US has very poor control over what may be claimed to be an “emotional support animal” and it is often used by those trying to avoid paying the fees involved when animals are handled as cargo.

    I would certainly agree this lady was pulling a scam (two dogs – you know they can cope separated, and that especially should be the case if they were properly trained as an emotional support animal, “certification” just consisted of a doctor’s note that really is just a meaningless bit of unverified paper, the rather OTT description of events, etc).

    While I recognise and accept that emotional support animals can be legit, until the US puts in place a proper valid training and accreditation system, as used for physical disability aid animals, to weed out the ridiculous and the fraudulent, you will struggle with getting other countries to accept such malarkey. And it just makes a mockery of a serious issue – I put emotional support animal fraud up their with curtain creepers (the perpetrators are just terrible people, always working an angle, to the damage of others).

  27. I cloned my ESA. Now I have 5 copies of the same ESA. Same nuclear DNA.
    Can they all travel at the same time on the same ESA letter .

    (The 5 clones is not a joke)

  28. Madame Kao was traveling with her HUSBAND and needed two toy dogs for “Emotional Support”? WTH was HE for, an Accessory?

  29. What a scam. I actually start sneezing when getting around dogs, and especially cats! Enough is enough. I’m willing to suffer when someone needs a real support animal, but stop the fakes.

  30. I love dogs. I foster rescue dogs until they can find a “forever” home. I don’t buy into this emotional support ruse. I have seen, however, people having terrific allergy attacks (including having trouble breathing). This is real and very dangerous. Ms. Kao and her ilk are narcissistic annoyances who have no ego boundaries nor empathy.

  31. I like dogs but because of allergic reactions dogs don’t like me, How much compensation would I get if those dogs were seated in the same cabin as myself? Nada.

  32. The sad part no one every brings up that claim “keep them out” or some similar statement, miss – you can pay to bring a pet on then plane (not cargo hold; I have sympathy for allergy suffers – though I must point out this part doesn’t avoid that issue either); vets rarely recommend cargo hold for animals (extreme conditions, trauma, etc.); and circumstances – moving, long term stays, etc. That doesn’t even address real support uses. And as said by both sides, the harm to those using it appropriately. I wouldn’t want to mess with that. Identification in passport or something similar – at least in the US, that would not be permissible under ADA regulation and laws. There is also a difference (sometimes) between airline policy and allowable policy (i.e. FAA), etc.

    To sum – The biggest takeaway should be that if someone pays for the animal to travel, 9 out of the 10 issues listed don’t disappear. The only hope we can have is well trained animals and non-abuse of the system – which will always happen regardless of strictness (and frankly, a quacking duck in diapers would be a welcome reprive from some of the individual I’ve encountered.)

  33. It’s not the dogs. It’s the chinese(Ms. Kao?) that are causing the harm, with their typical inconsiderate behavior. I am from Korea and I hate chinese tourists in general. what can I say.

  34. I’m curious. On the Passenger Shaming site I have seen couple of pics of really huge or freely roaming “emotional support” animals. How about safety here? In case of severe turbulence those will become flying bullet injuring everybody in their way. Is one person emotional calmness more important than safety of everybody else on the board?

  35. I wrote an article about this, because I feel it is getting out of control and it’s really in the hands of the DOT. The airlines hands are tied because of getting sued as per the above. Craziness. Here is my article – I interviewed a lot of people and really tried to dig in on why things are the way they are and how they might be fixed:

  36. The term “emotional support animal” should not even exist. Passenger cabin on a plane is for transportation of humans. No animals should be in the passenger cabin, this is a safety risk. The only exception should be for well trained service animals. If you want your horse, duck, chihuahua, monkey or anything else that behaves according to animal instincts, there is a cargo room for that. Or get a private jet and don’t let your untrained spoiled dog bother other passengers.
    Don’t do stuff if you can’t do it! If you can’t fly, don’t fly, if can’t drive, don’t drive, if you can’t eat spicy food, don’t eat spicy food, if you have heart transplant, don’t run a marathon, …… Maybe this society should start using logic again and stop listening to their shrinks.

  37. Can I bring my “emotional support” mistress on with me for free? I need her sitting on my lap to cope with my flight anxiety. 🙂

    As for the questions about pet allergies and the risk during turbulence of animals that can’t use seat belts, the obvious solution is for both the animals and their owner to ride in the baggage compartment.

  38. “Who is harmed? People who actually need the animals. As if anxiety isn’t crippling enough!” Really? How about fellow passengers who have to put up with them? What about people who are allergic? Seriously, if you can’t fly without emotional help, then maybe you should stay at home or drive.

  39. Dec 31, 2016 Jetblue, JFK>SFO: 1 passenger, 3 emotional support dogs in 3 bags & 1 overpacked roller-bag. Full flight. We were delayed until JB FA could talk other px into having a dog below their seat as only 1 dog bag fit below 1 seat. How could anyone think that its okay to bring 4 carry-ons onboard into Economy? Total disregard for others. Insane.

  40. What is the issue here ?
    Is that folks are “gaming the system” to bring a pet on board under the guise of an ESA in order to save $125 or so ? I suspect 99% of the readers here would have no problem finding a way to get a seat upgrade for free by bending the rules. Anybody ever get a fee waiver on a flight change by claiming a “medical” issue ?

    Are you all saying that pets should never be allowed on a plane, even for a fee? Since the airlines have already decided that issue ( yes, you can pay to take a pet) then I guess it comes back to somebody gaming the system. Makes me think of all you fools running around to buy gift cards with your credit cards and other MS endeavors. Certainly not the intent of the card issuers or retailers that shut you down in this perverse game of whack a mole.

    As for allergy sufferers, I am sympathetic but there is no form of public transport that is aseptic and unfortunately you must be prepared for that. Heck, a car ride from your BFF that happens to own a cat and has dander all over their seats and clothes could be a problem. What happens when you walk into a post office and someone legally enters that public space with their service animal or ESA ? Do you cry foul and tell them they should stay home if they are so unstable ? So, how can this emotional support animal issue be such a crisis.

    Lucky–What is your specific beef here…have you just not found a way to play this game and resent that someone else does or is the sight of a few pets disguised as service animals just too much to bear. Something more going on with you here to spill this much ink on an issue that doesn’t affect you !

    I flew last night on a 5PM flight from SLC to JFK. Half the people brought their smelly ski boots on board and just as many brought food on board. Nobody paid a fee, had a letter or concern that their fellow passengers would be upset by or allergic to their odors or meals.

  41. Very few people are allergic to the smell of a Big Mac. Or ski boots either.

    Quite a few are to dogs and cats. I’ve been on S/W flights where the FAs refused to give out peanuts because one person on the plane was allergic to them. How are dogs and cats different?

    It makes no sense to compare being stuck in a plane for 8 hours with a pet to taking a ride with your BFF whose cats ride in that car. In the latter case, you would avoid that ride and maybe call Uber instead. But with a non-refundable plane ticket, bought months in advance, there is no way to know that someone is going to show up with 2 dogs or cats, and with a seat assignment within a few feet of you.

    There are ‘pet hotels’ where you can board your pet for a week while you are out of town. To the best of my knowledge they won’t accept human children though, so the comparison to misbehaving children doesn’t hold up either. Not to mention that children over 2 must have a paid ticket, unlike “ESAs”. 😉

  42. Lucky, this article has stressed me out and caused me to lose more hope in humanity. I will need to consult a therapist after reading it and therefore I am suing you for “loss of enjoyment of life”. 😉
    Same goes for you commenters!

  43. —Robert Hanson

    OK so instead of a free ESA, I pay the pet fee and board with my pooch. Now what is the complaint ? The airlines DO ALLOW pets and you still would not know in advance if one was on board or, heaven forbid, seated neat you.
    Why would anyone with severe allergies be so inconsiderate to put themselves on an airplane and then deny the rest of us to our right to consume free peanuts (actually part of the cost of the non-refundable ticket) ?

  44. Oh joy, here come the people who feel they are an authority on mental illness because they too feel sad sometimes…

    You do not know this woman and to claim that they’re fake is arrogant and ignorant in the extreme. As to the idiot complaining about there being two of them – they’re living creatures not tablets. Size or number isn’t relevant, it’s the emotional attachment (the clue is in the name…) that matters. Surprisingly people can be attached to more than one thing – would your consolation to someone who loses a child be “well you have another one”?

    As to damages – she should be reimbursed for financial losses, nothing more.

  45. Thank goodness we don’t have any of this nonsense of being able to pay to take a dog into the cabin in Europe. As shown in an earlier post ( British Airways) the rules on service/ assistance dogs here are very strict indeed. And we have no such thing as an “emotional support” animal. The squabble on here about the situation within USA shows how hood it is that sheer common sense rules in Europe.

  46. If the dogs are not certified and she can’t provide paperwork.. the gate agent is following policy (according to above post). She should take Greyhound Buslines next time…

  47. I’ve paid the exorbitant $125 (each way) on American and $99 on Southwest (each way) to take my dog on the flight with me, 5 times now. I’ve never considered cheating the system by claiming he was an emotional support animal, yet I’ve been *accused* of being a cheater by holier-than-thou jerks in the waiting areas anyway.

    When I’m going to visit family for a week over the holidays, $200 – $250 is about how much a sitter or dog hotel would cost anyway. He stays silently his under the seat carrier for the entire flight (thankfully, visiting family is just a 2.5 hour nonstop) – except for a minute or two when I unzip the front to let him sip on the melted ice and water from an extra cup. Most of the time, when I pull his bag out to deplane, the people around me exclaim “I didn’t realize you had a dog in there” !

  48. @Scott

    Strange that your GF finds more emotional support in a dog than she does in her boyfriend.

  49. There is a lot of hypocrisy in the UK regarding dog care ‘responsibilities’ on one hand and on another hand there is a number of truly wonderful individuals and organizations like the Royal Opera House or the NHS itself that is trying to meet the needs of vulnerable people and provide ‘as if you are at home’ care. I was not born in the UK and my animal always traveled with me before she passed away at the age of 10. We do not leave dogs with seaters or kids with nannies. The dog walkers or dog seaters is not my culture – like parents who send their kids away from the age of three and think this is good care, having your dog looked after by a stranger is a form of negligence. Dogs are tribal and treating a dog like an object that you can shift on other people and pay money for it, defeats the purpose of having a dog. If arrnagemtns were made to allow well behaved pets to fly with owners, the world would have been a much better place. Dogs get emotionally damaged in cages. It is no harm having airlines that are only (wo)man & dog airline. You don’t like this? allergic? – fly the ordinary one! Although allergy thing i personally do not buying being very allergic physically and emotionally since childhood. Its something that can be treated with antihistamines and relaxation :))) positive emotions …ahhhhh…a therapy animal?

    I have a well trained working dog that was trained in my native language, for my needs and she is still waiting accreditation from the relevant ‘charities’ as she is missing a ‘badge’ while I am missing my life as I can not do the thing that gives my life a meaning – traveling and being with my family. Medically I am tied to the UK and feel suicidal on and off because I feel marooned and very unfairly so – precisely because I am disabled. The doctors encourage me to forward the documentation that they gave me and to ask for travel assistance with my Aid dog on the airlines, yet, in all fairness, for somebody who struggles to keep thoughts together in day to day tasks, getting all this together and right is way too complicated! Not to mention that I am TERRIFIED of precisely this unspeakable rudeness that a number of service representatives on airlines used to allow themselves even before i had my Aid animal. What is worth bearing in mind for the critics is that conditions people have are different. In order to pass judgamnets on who needs what dog when and why it is worth having gone to a medical school as then your judgment will be valid. Anxiety, panic and other problems often make you shit your pants or pee yourself way before you can make it to the toilet. I am sure you’d prefer a well toilet trained dog on board rather than a human, who shut themselves without one (or two). Dogs smell? Are you sure you always smell nice when flying? Fake conditions? I have a congenital condition (physical) and an acquired one (mental). If those alleged fakers can make it easier for me to fly by pressing on the need for support animals not be separated from their owners – they deserve a medal. It is normal to miss your dog (even if not an aid dog) when away from the animal and just as normal to want them to be with you when you are flying rather than leave them to travel with baggage. Airlines are services and they are there to provide a service that meets the needs of the customers rather than have a disability competition on who is disabler and whose dog is helping and whose dog as well as the owner are a piece of (….) This is not on!

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