The oddball stories have been hitting the news with regularity over the last few years: "Emotional support" animals — everything from squirrels to pigs — find their way aboard airline flights and inevitably cause chaos, delays, and even injuries.
But that all may be officially coming to an end, NBC News reported.
What are the details?
The Transportation Department has proposed rules that would prohibit all manner of creatures that certain passengers carry aboard flights as service animals or emotional-support animals, often to skirt around a $125 pet fee, the network noted.
Instead only specially trained dogs would be allowed to fly under the "service animal" designation, NBC News said.
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While insisting that it "recognizes the integral role that service animals play in the lives of many individuals with disabilities," the Transportation Department said in a statement that its proposed rule is aimed at "reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claim their pets are service animals."
An approved service animal would be defined as a "dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability."
In addition, NBC News said the proposed new rules would let airlines prohibit travelers from flying with emotional-support cats, pigs, and rabbits — as well as limit the number of service animals traveling with a single person to two and require that an animal "fit within its handler's foot space."
'The days of Noah's Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end'
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, welcomed the proposed new rules, telling NBC News that flight attendants have been injured by pets let "loose in the cabin."
"The days of Noah's Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end," she noted to the network. "Passengers claiming pets as emotional support animals have threatened the safety and health of passengers and crew in recent years while this practice skyrocketed. Untrained pets should never roam free in the aircraft cabin."
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In recent years, the Transportation Department has seen the number of passenger complaints about unruly service animals on domestic and foreign airlines skyrocket from 719 in 2013 to 3,065 in 2018.
But there was little the Transportation Department could do, because, under the current rules, airlines are required to "recognize service animals regardless of species with exceptions for certain unusual species of service animals such as snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders."
The station said United, Southwest, Delta, and American have reportedly already limited emotional-support animals in cabins to dogs and cats in most cases after passengers complained. In 2018, Jet Blue banned animals with tusks, spiders, rodents, insects, reptiles, hedgehogs, snakes, ferrets, and sugar gliders from its planes under an emotional-support animal policy.
You may remember way back in 2014 when an airline passenger was allowed to bring an emotional-support pig aboard a flight — until the pig began squealing and defecating in the aisle.
"We could smell it and it was a pig on a leash," a fellow passenger aboard the U.S. Airways flight said. "She tethered it to the armrest next to me and started to deal with her stuff, but the pig was walking back and forth."
Another passenger remarked about the pig: "I was terrified."
Flight attendants eventually asked the animal's owner to exit the cabin, and the owner reportedly did so before takeoff without incident.