Airlines say as the number of support animals on flights increase so do the incidents on board.

Govt proposes major curbs for emotional support animals on flights

The era of emotional support animals and exotic service animals on flights could be coming to an end.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing to stop recognizing emotional support animals as service animals and to recognize only dogs as service animals.

That means under the proposal, emotional support animals would not get special access to fly in the cabin, and other animals such as cats or miniature horses would not be recognized as service animals.

The agency is inviting public comment for 60 days before it decides on the final rules.

It’s yet to be seen how long it would take before any new rules take effect. The final version of the rules may differ from the proposed ones, and it can take months or longer for federal rules to be finalized and take effect.

The DOT is also proposing to require passengers that want to fly with a service animal to fill out federal forms attesting that their animal is a service animal trained to perform tasks to help them with their disability and that the animal can behave well. Making false statements on such forms would be a federal crime.

>>Delta passenger bitten by emotional support dog couldn’t escape, says attorney

Industry group Airlines for America applauded the proposal and the move to provide “the clarity travelers, employees and airlines need by ensuring only dogs trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities are allowed onboard aircraft.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, also welcomed the DOT’s proposal. “The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” Nelson said in a written statement.

The airline industry group said increased availability of fraudulent credentials for emotional support animals has enabled people to abuse the rules on animals in the cabin, leading to more incidents involving untrained animals that threaten the health and safety of passengers and crew.

Under the proposed rules, airlines would be able to require passengers with disabilities who travel with a service animal to check in one hour earlier, and carriers could limit each passenger with a disability to two service animals.

The DOT also plans to continue to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal based on its breed -- though Delta Air Lines has maintained its ban on pit bulls even after the DOT issued guidance last year saying such a breed ban is not allowed.

Delta put in place its ban on pit bulls as service or support animals in 2018 after two employees were bitten by a passenger’s emotional support dog.

The American Kennel Club said it opposes breed bans. “It’s the deed, not the breed,” said Sheila Goffe, vice president of government relations for the AKC.

The Humane Society of the United States called the DOT’s proposal to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal based on breed ”a much-needed move toward ending discriminatory policies” by airlines, and said Delta’s decision placed “hardship on its own customers.”

Delta said it has not changed its policies on service and support animals and that it continues to work with the DOT “to find solutions that support the rights of customers who have legitimate needs to travel with trained animals.

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About the Author

Kelly Yamanouchi
Kelly Yamanouchi
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.