The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a ban on emotional support animals of any kind accompanying their owners inside the cabin of a U.S. flight, and the only service animals allowed to board alongside their owners must be trained dogs.
What are the details?
In a new set of rules announced Wednesday for the Air Carrier Access Act, the DOT now "defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability," and "no longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal." Psychiatric service dogs are still allowed to fly.
The agency noted that it "received more than 15,000 comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking," which purportedly "addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft."
Politico pointed out that the changes were "issued following a litany of complaints from airlines and flight attendants alike about people bringing unusual animals — including pigs, gerbils, turtles and birds, among others — on board that they claimed were for emotional support."
Beyond customer service and employee concerns, there is another benefit to airlines under the new rules: money.
According to the Daily Mail, the restrictions "will force passengers with emotional support animals to check them into the cargo hold—and pay a pet fee that generally runs more than $100 each way—or leave them at homes."
DOT estimates that airlines could see nearly $60 million annually in additional pet fees thanks to the changes.
Individual airlines have issued their own restrictions on emotional support animals in recent years, following high-profile instances of animals causing problems such as defecating on flights or attacking other passengers.
NBC News reported that Delta changed its rules in 2018 after denying "a peacock from boarding one of its planes." That same year, American Airlines issued a list of animals specifically banned from traveling in cabins "which included a ban on amphibians, ferrets, goats, hedgehogs, spiders, sugar gliders, waterfowl and animals with tusks, horns or hooves."
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