(Adds reactions from airline trade group in fourth paragraph and disability rights advocate in eight paragraph.)
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Emotional support animals such as peacocks, alligators, or pigs will be banned from flying inside the cabin on U.S. airlines under a new rule aiming to counter the growing menagerie of species brought on flights in recent years.
The rule, announced Wednesday, will narrow the Department of Transportation’s definition of a service animal to include only canines trained to assist a person with a disability. Customers traveling with a support animal that isn’t a service dog would be required to pay an airline’s pet fee to bring the creature aboard. Airlines will be allowed to require that a service dog fit in the passenger’s foot space on the plane, according to the Transportation Department.
The nation’s largest flight attendant union and Airlines for America, a group that represents carriers such as JetBlue Airways Corp., United Airlines Holdings Inc., and American Airlines Group Inc., have long advocated for a policy that would help airlines cut down on animals that they say pose a threat to passengers and crew.
Emotional support animal behavior “has ranged from mauling and biting to urinating and defecating,” Airlines for America, the carriers’ trade group, said in a statement Wednesday. “This misbehavior not only threatens the health and safety of passengers and crew, but also passengers with disabilities traveling with trained service animals.”
Airlines have already altered their stance on animals on their own in recent years in response to a soaring number of passengers incorrectly claiming they needed them for emotional support. The Department of Transportation said in 2018 that it wouldn’t penalize airlines if they refuse to let passengers fly with more than one support animal or require proof of an animal’s training. Delta Air Lines Inc. and United in 2018 began requiring 48-hour advance notice to travel with an emotional support animal.
Under the rule released Wednesday, airlines can limit a passenger to two service dogs.
The rule is likely to be controversial. Advocates for people with disabilities, including the National Disability Rights Network, said earlier this year that forcing flyers to fill out paperwork to travel with a service animal is burdensome. The rule released Wednesday allows airlines to require forms developed by the Department of Transportation attesting to a service animal’s health and behavior.
Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said in a statement Wednesday that the rule will “undermine the rights of people with disabilities and instead almost exclusively accommodate the interests of the airline industry.” The group has yet to review the full rule.
Thousands of Letters
The Transportation Department’s January proposal to ban emotional support animals from flights inspired about 15,000 letters from across the country weighing in on the issue, from animal lovers, guide-dog owners, and canine trainers, among others.
Melanie Benware, president of the International Association of Canine Professionals, wrote with colleagues that airline employees should be trained to recognize “unsafe animal behavior.” Abby Volin, a lawyer who specializes in animal accommodation law, wrote with Vivian Leven, a canine behavior consultant, that air carriers should consider lowering their pet fees to “a reasonable amount.” And Allie Epstein, a California eighth grader who said she uses a service dog, wrote that airlines should ask service animal handlers whether they would like to board ahead of other passengers.
“This way, there are no complications between humans and animals that might end badly, such as a dog allergy or a smaller service dog being trampled,” Epstein said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
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