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The Days of Flying With Your 'Emotional Support' Animal May Be Coming to an End

Illustration for article titled The Days of Flying With Your Emotional Support Animal May Be Coming to an End
Image: Pixabay

Spoiling the fun of wondering whether you could be sharing your next flight with an emotional support peacock or perhaps even a miniature horse, the U.S. Department of Transportation is looking to crack down on the practice of bringing non-service-trained animals onto commercial flights.

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The DOT announced Wednesday it is seeking public input on proposed changes to current rules that allow some travelers to fly with their emotional support pets, which in recent years have reportedly included everything from hamsters to reptiles and, yes, even tiny horses. The changes would amend the Air Carrier Access Act in several key ways, including by defining a service animal as a dog with specialized training to assist the needs of a person with a disability. In addition, under the proposed changes, emotional support animals would no longer be considered service animals.

The rules would, among other changes, also allow carriers to limit the number of service animals able to travel with a single person to just two, as well as allow them to require the animal to fit in the space between the owner’s feet on the aircraft—which, if we’re being honest, would only comfortably accommodate an emotional support ant on today’s commercial aircraft.

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According to the DOT, passengers have attempted to fly with “a peacock, ducks, turkeys, pigs, iguanas, and various other types of animals as emotional support or service animals, causing confusion for airline employees and additional scrutiny for service animal users.” The department said that while it “recognizes the integral role that service animals play in the lives of many individuals with disabilities,” it’s also hoping to put a stop to people who are misrepresenting their critters as service animals when in fact they are merely pets. The proposed changes also come amid reports of emotional support animals, and particularly dogs, attacking flight crew, other passengers, and even children.

In a statement, Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas Calio said in a statement that the organization is “confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone.”

“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,” Calio added.

The public now has 60 days to comment on the proposed changes.

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DISCUSSION

I used to work at the SF public access station. We allowed service animals, but by SF law we were not allowed to require any documentation that an animal had any service training or certification. The intention was not to make community members who already were overcoming a lot to make community-oriented programming have to also worry about having their “papers in order”, but in practice it just led to people bringing their pets and saying “service animal”. It wasn’t often a problem (we could ask someone with an animal to leave if the animal was being disruptive), but I can see how the logical conclusion of that well-intended policy leads to peacocks on airplanes.