The days of passengers bringing their pets on airplanes as emotional-support animals could be ending. The U.S. Department of proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals. Airlines could ban emotional-support animals including untrained dogs, cats and more exotic companions such as pigs, pheasants, rabbits and snakes.
The number of support animals has grown dramatically in recent years, and some claim passengers who call their pets emotional-support animals want avoid pet fees that generally run more than $100 per trip.
“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. He said some people “want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them.”
The main trade group for large U.S. airlines praised the proposal. Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, and they too were pleased. Veterans groups also sided with the airlines, arguing that a boom in untrained dogs and other animals threatens their ability to fly with properly trained service dogs. Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.
On the other side are people who say that an emotional-support animal helps them with anxiety or other issues that would prevent them from traveling or make it more stressful.
Southwest Airlines handles more than 190,000 emotional support animals per year. American Airlines carried 155,790 emotional support animals in 2017, up 48 percent from 2016, while the number of checked pets dropped 17 percent. United Airlines carried 76,000 comfort animals in 2017.
The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes. Officials highlighted a few areas where they are most eager to get comments, including whether miniatures horses should continue to qualify as service animals.
The Transportation Department proposes a narrow definition in which a service animal could only be a dog that is trained to help a person with a physical or other disability. Passengers with a service dog would have to fill out a federal form on which they swear that the dog is trained to help them. A dog trained to help with psychiatric needs would qualify as a service animal.
The new rules would also bar the current practice by many airlines of requiring animal owners to fill out paperwork 48 hours in advance. A department official said that practice can harm disabled people by preventing them from bringing their service dog on last-minute trips.
The proposal also says people with service animals must check in earlier than the general public.