While passengers boarded a Southwest flight from Phoenix to Portland, a little girl about 6 or 7 years old saw a dog in the plane's first row of seats. Despite the dog's owner asking her to stay back, the girl approached the emotional support animal. That's when the dog bit the child, breaking the skin.
Southwest spokeswoman Melissa Ford said the dog's teeth "scraped" the child's forehead and caused a minor injury. The plane was delayed for 20 minutes while emergency medical workers examined the child and police interviewed both the girl's family and the dog's owner. The family remained on the plane while the dog and owner stayed back in Phoenix for a later flight.
Passenger Todd Rice tweeted, "Why are dogs on the plane?! Never again will I fly SWA," along with a photo of the dog (his post has since been deleted).
Trained emotional support animals are allowed on Southwest domestic and international flights as long as their handlers provide documents (these could include health certificates, vaccinations or permits) required by the laws and regulations at the destination. Otherwise, employees may as some "fact-finding questions to ascertain what assistance the animal provides."
The incident adds to an already heated debate about whether support animals should be allowed on planes and under what conditions. Unlike service animals, support animals don't need training. There are also concerns that people are using "support animals" to game the system, trying to keep their pets out of cargo or bypassing fees for carrying small non-support pets in the cabin. All of this makes it harder for people who really need support animals and suffer from a range of issues like severe anxiety or PTSD.
With the sharp rise of emotional support animals, some airlines are clarifying or tightening their policies. Last year, a 70-pound support dog bit a passenger's face on a Delta flight. The man, seated next to the window, couldn't escape. The attack was so severe, he needed hospital care and 28 stitches. United also is looking at its policies after a woman tried to bring her emotional support peacock onto a flight in January. And, just this month, a student who flew Spirit said she was told to flush her emotional support hamster down the plane's toilet.