Service Animals on Flights May Face Tougher Restrictions

The Department of Transportation is proposing an overhaul to the regulations around service animals on flights in the United States, banning all animals except dogs, and no longer forcing airlines to let animals accompany passengers who say they need them just for emotional support, officials said on Wednesday.

The proposed new rules will be open to the public for comments for 60 days, and then the department will analyze the results before it makes a final decision, it said in a media briefing.

In a statement, the department said it “recognizes the integral role” that service animals provide for people with disabilities, but added that the changes could help reduce the likelihood that passengers would be able to “falsely claim their pets are service animals.”

Under the proposal, passengers with physical or psychological disabilities who want to bring a dog into the cabin as a service animal must fill out a federal form attesting that it has been trained to specifically perform tasks that address the disability, the officials said.

An animal cannot just be brought aboard to make a passenger “feel better,” an official said.

If approved, the new rules would narrow the department’s formal guidance from 2019 that made clear that three types of service animals should be prioritized for travel: cats, dogs and miniature horses (read more about why miniature horses made the cut here). At the time, questions were raised about how the animals could relieve themselves, and their ability to fit in confined spaces.

In further limiting the options to dogs, the department said its proposed definition aligns with one used by the Department of Justice and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Passengers who want to travel with animals can still do so under a carrier’s existing rules for bringing pets onboard. Under the proposal, it would be up to an airline to decide whether to allow an animal to fly for a passenger’s emotional support, the department said.

The Association of Flight Attendants, the trade union that represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines, welcomed the proposals, saying that passengers claiming pets as emotional support animals have “threatened the safety and health of passengers and crews in recent years while this practice skyrocketed.”

Flight attendants have been hurt and safety has been compromised by untrained animals loose in cabins, it said.

“Untrained pets should never roam free in the aircraft cabin,” the association said. “The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end.”

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