A US federal proposal will limit the types of animals registered as emotional support animals on commercial airlines. An emotional support animal is a type of assistance animal that alleviates a symptom or effect of an individual’s disability. It is not a pet and is generally not restricted by species. It differs from a service animal.
The US Department of Transportation is to permit airlines to control and tighten regulations regarding what can be classified as emotional support animals on planes.
This includes the banning of all animals except for professionally trained service dogs that assist passengers with disabilities, including psychiatric disorders. “The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
Passengers scamming airlines
Airline officials claim that in an effort to avoid paying pet transportation fees, many passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pets for emotional support, making it challenging for those who actually need the support.
“When there are abuses in the system, it’s individuals with disabilities who suffer,” a Department of Transportation official said on January 22.
Airline pet fees can cost up to $100 for each one-way flight, potentially costing more than the flight itself, according to seasoned traveler Gillian Small who flies with her pet dog, Clovie.
“The pet travel fees can get expensive. Sometimes when flying to Florida to visit my parents, her [Clovie’s] add-on fare can be more expensive than my flight. But rules are rules, and it is a small price to pay to be afforded the luxury of traveling with her by my side,” she told Travel + Leisure.
Health and safety of passengers and crew
According to the Department of Transportation, support animals often disrupt the flight experience for other passengers. “Animals on aircraft may pose a risk to the safety, health, and well-being of passengers and crew and may disturb the safe and efficient operation of the aircraft including increases in the number of behavior-related service animal incidents on aircraft, including urinating, defecating, and biting,” the proposal states.
Under the new federal law, passengers who wish to travel with a service pet will have to complete forms certifying the animal’s good health and behavior. Airlines will not be permitted to ban specific breeds of dogs, but will be allowed to restrict animals that “[…] pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others.”
Southwest Airlines handles most cases of emotional support animals in the United States, as it deals with more than 190,000 animals a year.