Support Dog Bites Kid on Southwest Flight

After boarding a Southwest flight from Phoenix to Portland last night a passenger’s ‘support dog’ reportedly bit a child.

Southwest Airlines downplays the incident saying that the dog’s teeth “scraped a child’s forehead as the young passenger approached the animal, causing a minor injury.” In fairness the injury was minor enough for the child to fly. The animal and its owner were not permitted to take the flight after the incident.

Apparently “the girl tried to pet the animal.” We don’t know whether the girl asked the owner’s permission first. It’s never a good idea to approach animals you don’t know without learning (1) how they react to it, and (2) how to do it. A child’s movements are often unsubtle. You should approach at the dog’s level and give them an opportunity to smell and approach first.

Southwest suggests passengers weren’t inconvenienced by much of a delay on last night’s flight to Portland.

When you were a child did you ever take a school field trip? The bus ride feels like forever. One after another a kid will ask the teacher how much longer it’s going to be. “20 minutes,” they’d say. Each kid would get the same answer no matter how much time had passed.

Finally the first kid comes back up and asks again, gets told 20 minutes, and realizes something doesn’t compute. “Yes, but I meant 20 minutes from now” the teacher would say.

That’s exactly like Southwest’s claim that “the aircraft departed about 20 minutes behind schedule.”

What they’re really saying it seems is since the flight was already delayed by an inbound aircraft there wasn’t much more of a delay attributable to the dog bite.

Of course Southwest’s further claim that “the safety of our Customers is our highest priority” seems equally mistaken when clearly avoiding risk of liability under the Air Carrier Access Act, allowing any and all animals onboard that are claimed to be needed for emotional support, is the highest priority.

A dog that’s inclined to bit passengers shouldn’t be taken on a plane. There are plenty of people in close quarters. There’s a reason why non-emotional support animals are required to remain in a travel bag throughout their flight journey. This isn’t the first time in the past year a passenger has been bitten by a supposed support animal.

Delta has new rules for support animals and United has copied those rules. However they’re fairly weak sauce and require the owner to state that the animal is safe, rather than requiring the animal to be safe. And it’s not even clear the new rules requiring advance notice to the airline are legal.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The NONSENSE/Bullshit with these Animals and Owners could be easily eliminated with a Signed Statement that “should an animal misbehave and attack/create an issue onboard the Vessel (plain/train etc) the Owner would be in violation and subject to removal,fined and imprisoned to full extent of the law. Only in the USA does this Legal Tip Toeing and cow towing to the Social Misfits exhist. In a Nutchell, “Your MFing Dog bites Me…..I will Own Your Ass by the End of the Day. You a penniless useless piece of travelling garbage…..Trust Me, My Attorney will Find a Way”. We are on an Airplane…..I didn’t book a Ticket to get an unexpected trip to the MFing Zoo! And I am a multiple Dog Owner! (That Delta pax that almost had his face torn off had better Sued the Airline as well as the Dog Owner)

  2. That’s the problem, most of these people who claim their animals are emotional support animals aren’t being honest. These animals aren’t trained to the extent they would need to be to qualify. Airlines are so afraid of running afoul of the ADA that they look the other way instead of doing their job. A couple of months ago on a SW flight I was on there were two golden labs in the front row with their trainers/handlers with them. They had just been in vegas after the shooting and we’re heading home. These dogs sat, didn’t move a CM, never barked, never even breathed as far as I can tell. They had the red vests on with all their paperwork on in a plastic sleeve on the vest. I think unless an animal is properly trained and has the paperwork they should be in a cage. I travel better with my wife but I can’t bring her and have her sit on my lap….

  3. @Gary

    ‘”And it’s not even clear the new rules requiring advance notice to the airline are legal.”

    According to the DOT website the airlines within their legal right:

    Airlines can determine whether an animal is a service animal or pet by:
    The credible verbal assurances of an individual with a disability using the animal;
    Looking for physical indicators such as the presence of a harness or tags;
    Requiring documentation for psychiatric support animals and emotional support animals; and
    Observing the behavior of animals.
    Emotional Support and Psychiatric Service Animals – Airlines can request specific documentation and/or 48-hours advanced notice for service animals that are emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals.

  4. Ok, so a child with a dog bite, a “minor injury”, can continue on a flight, but w woman with normal menstrual cramps–no injury, illness, or disease–is off-loaded? Common sense isn’t very common!

  5. I’m too old to use the phrase “weak sauce” and I’m still in my twenties….

    I cringed like when my parents ever use the word “hip”

  6. Every time an incident with a “support, comfort, or therapy dog happenson a plane, people get all bent out of shape and want all dogs banned from the cabin. It is unfortunate many people attempt to pass off a pet as a “support, comfort, or therapy” dog, as it reflects negatively on the real highly trained ( and quite expensive) service dogs who assist individuals with disabilities.

    My wife is deaf and has a hearing service dog which goes wherever she goes. Her service dog is highly trained to ignore people and concentrate on the environmental sounds for which she is trained to alert my wife. The dog wears a vest that on one side identifies the name of the service dog organization from which she was acquired and on the other side has a patch which reads “Do Not Pet, I Am Working!” If the dog can be trained to ignore people, than people should be able to read and keep their hands off the dog!

  7. As a person with a working animal (Dog) I can tell you that the process of training a working dog from a pet is insanely difficult. I know – I did it! My animal is now retired and I am suffering without his services of 15 years. I too have seen many scam artists with “working dogs” and too many idiots who also think my dog is a pet. When he is on duty – he wears his vest – petting (I do permit it) is not a problem. He is trained to allow people to step over him – move around him and not to react. A true working dog goes through drill after drill just to meet the basic behavioral standards. Then they are further drilled (months on end) to perform the specific medical assistance tasks to combat the needs of the owner. The only time I have had problems is when I have had to defend his right to be with me according to US law. That is a problem with humans not with the animal. Heck – he loves to play with other dogs but will not even budge from my side when he is on duty. And yes they need play time too. But that’s when he’s given his favorite command “Be a Dog!”. And Roger – I am 100 percent responsible for my animal’s behavior – working dog or pet. I (and his trainers) made him what he is.

  8. Child was a ask b y owner to stay back. The service dog was next to the bulkhead, as far away from people as possible. Parents need to teach children to listen and leave service animals alone. Dog was better trained than the kid.

  9. Sorry for the child – must be very traumatic. Hopefully the kids parents will sue the dog owner and then insurance companies will start to bar pet owners from traveling with fake service animals.

    It is clear that the tide has turned and momentum is rolling to eliminate all the fakers and their furry friends from aircraft cabins. Good riddance – long overdue. Anybody with a real service animal can get a certificate, MD note and a vet certificate. A lot of paperwork but then you are saving the $$$ fees for non-service animals.

  10. We need tough service animal legislation, stronger background checks on these animals owners, and ultimately ban all service dogs!!

  11. @DC Yes, but the real question is whether you can put your wife in a cage ….

    As to the ESA issue I tried first class wih mine but then AA reduced first class seat pitch to less than that of the exit row. Too bad ESA isn’t allowed in an exit row. My beagle is trained to open the emergency exit and lick each oassenger on the face as they slide into oblivion

  12. I used to support pet owners slapping the jacket on their dogs to fly hem for free since the fees airlines charge for flying pets are completely outrageous, even if you have a small cat that easily fits under a seat. But then I sat on a domestic transcon in the last F seat on one of those cursed planes without a divider and the man behind me with an “emotional support” dog wouldn’t stop whistling and singing to himself the whole flight. It was so unbelievably annoying especially with 4 hours of airtime and 45 minutes taxiing in SFO. The animals themselves are fine to me, but the owners are some of the most obnoxious and societally dysfunctional people. No wonder they “need” an animal to fly.

  13. @Ray: Totally agree. There should be one special airline for nutjobs. Appropriately founded by @747always and @Matthew.

  14. ESAs aren’t a thing. Misuse of the system will lead to problems as we see now.
    Ps. If I start a nut job airline, JC will be a top tier elite. She will even have her own suite on every plane which is outfitted with nice padded walls.

  15. Huge difference between service dogs that are trained to assist the disabled and the “support” dogs. Last month 4 of these dogs ona SW flight out of FLL. One on the seat in the front row, one lying in the aisle most of the trip and the FA’s say little. I filed a complaint with SW and got the usual BS. Time for the airlines to grow a set and require true documentation rather than the leeter of need you buy on the interent for 150.00

  16. Even if the child was told to stay back, have you noticed how small the airplane aisles are? How cramped everyone is together? They were loading it stated in the article… and I know for a fact that I usually accidently bump into numerous people well boarding a plane. If a dog has a tendency to bite, it should not be allowed in public as a so called ’emotional support’ dog. I am all for the actual service animals, but the support animals are just abusing the system.

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