Air travel is going to the dogs.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed new rules that would reign in the menagerie of service animals passengers have been carrying on flights under the guise of being service animals – the new rules would only allow specially trained dogs to fly under the service animal designation.
If this rule takes effect, the DOT would be cracking down on passengers using the loophole to travel with pets, effectively grounding miniature horses, turkeys, cats and various other critters that travelers have brought aboard flights as service animals.
While insisting that it “recognizes the integral role that service animals play in the lives of many individuals with disabilities,” the DOT said in a statement its new proposed rule is aimed at “reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claims their pets are service animals.” An approved service animal will be defined as a “dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.”
Sara Nelson, president of the 50,000-member Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, hailed the proposal. She said flight attendants have been injured by pets that have been let “loose in the cabin.”
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” Nelson said. “Passengers claiming pets as emotional support animals have threatened the safety and health of passengers and crew in recent years while this practice skyrocketed. Untrained pets should never roam free in the aircraft cabin.”
Nelson stressed that under the proposed rules passengers can still travel with animals, but “under their preferred carrier’s pet program.”
In recent years, the DOT has seen the number of complaints from passengers about unruly service animals on domestic and foreign airlines skyrocket from 719 in 2013 to 3,065 in 2018.
But there was little the DOT could do because, under the current rules, airlines are required to “recognize service animals regardless of species with exceptions for certain unusual species of service animals such as snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders.”
Local lawmakers, however, have responded by proposing ordinances aimed squarely at “fake” service animals. One proposed ordinance by powerful Chicago Alderman Edward Burke cited a report of United Airlines barring a woman from bringing her emotional support peacock on a flight out of Newark Liberty International Airport.
And airlines like United, Southwest, Delta and American have already reportedly started limiting emotional support animals allowed in cabins to largely dogs and cats in response to complaints from passengers.
The move by the airlines comes in the wake of a nationwide crackdown on people who falsely claim their pets as service and support animals so they can bring them into restaurants, theaters and other public places.
Under the proposed new rules, airlines would no longer be required to accommodate travelers who want to fly with emotional support animals such as cats, pigs and rabbits.
Airlines would be allowed to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single person to two, and require that the animal “fit within its handler’s foot space.”
The airlines would also be able to bar “service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others,” the DOT statement said.
The public has 60 days to weigh-in with comments on the proposed changes, the DOT said.