The practice of bringing an “emotional support animal” onto an airplane could become a thing of the past if a new proposed rule from the Department of Transportation takes effect.
The rule would define a service animal “as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” “Emotional support animals” would no longer be considered valid service animals under the rule and would instead be classified as pets.
DOT said in a press release that it is proposing the rule to address concerns related to the rise of people bringing more animals on planes in recent years that have created problems or safety hazards. The number of complaints the agency has received from passengers about disruptions from animals on planes has gone up drastically in recent years, going from 719 in 2013 to 3,065 in 2018.
“The [Transportation] Department recognizes the integral role that service animals play in the lives of many individuals with disabilities and wants to ensure that individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals while also reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claim their pets are service animals,” said the DOT press release.
There has been little guidance as to what constitutes a “service animal” for traveling onboard an airplane with one’s animals. That has led to stories of people bringing, or attempting to bring, miniature horses, monkeys, squirrels or even peacocks onto planes under the heading of “emotional support animals.”
The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, a union for flight attendants, asked DOT to create regulations to stop people from bringing the animals onboard airplanes and posing risks to flight attendants and passengers. Apparently DOT got the message.
Sara Nelson, the union’s president, praised the proposal, saying that animals “let loose in the cabin” have injured flight attendants.
“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” Nelson said. “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.”
The DOT rule would also require owners of service animals to fill out paperwork that attests to a service animal’s training and good behavior, certify that it is in good health, and also affirm “that the animal has the ability either not to relieve itself on a long flight or to relieve itself in a sanitary manner.”
Service animals would be required to be tethered, leashed or harnessed, and the rule would outline requirements for when a service animal’s owner would be liable for charges for damage that it causes.
There is a 60 day comment period in which the general public can weigh in on the proposed rule. The rule can be found on regulations.gov under docket number DOT–OST–2018–0068.