With New DOT Rules, Some Dogs May No Longer Fly for Free

By Jeremy Del Nero on 22 January 2020
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The U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday it is clamping down on travelers’ emotional-support pigs and turkeys with new regulations that clearly define a service animal.

The change may bring an end to a trend that started around five years ago where travelers feigned mental-health disorders in order to bring their pets into the cabin with them for free.

Some even obtained certificates designating their pets as emotional-support animals and purchased “support animal” vests for them online, mimicking what some working service animals wear. Emotional-support animals are intended to alleviate a symptom or effect of a person’s disability, but they are generally indistinguishable from a regular household pet to an outside observer.  Meanwhile, service animals are trained to perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability.

Over the same period of time, the number of onboard incidents involving emotional-support animals – such as a passenger on a Delta Air Lines flight from Atlanta to San Diego being mauled by an emotional support dog – dramatically increased.  Passengers who, when they indicated they were allergic to dogs, were asked to deplane while the dog and owner remained behind, were also unhappy with the situation.

While passengers have tried with some degree of success to bring pigs, ducks, snakes, spiders, chickens, roosters, and turkeys on board as emotional-support animals over the same period of time, the straw that broke the camel’s back (oddly enough no one has been reported as attempting to bring a camel onto a plane as a support animal) was when an over-entitled woman tried – albeit without success – to bring a peacock onto a United Airlines flight out of Newark in January 2018, claiming that the peafowl was an emotional support animal.

The agency said on Thursday it would limit its definition of “service animal” to include only dogs trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, and allow airlines to exclude emotional-support animals from the definition of a service animal.

The new regulations will allow airlines to require a passenger traveling with a service animal to check in one hour before the travel time required for the general public. Airlines will be able to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger to two and can require that a service animal fit within its owner’s foot space.

The move was strongly supported by the airline industry, which wants to limit service animals on board aircraft to “dogs trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities.”

“Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone,” said Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, the trade association representing major U.S. airlines.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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