Airlines In The US Can Now Ban Emotional Support Animals From Flights

A new rule allows airlines in the US to ban emotional support animals from riding in the cabin, ending a system that led to everything from turtles to pigs, snakes, and even turkeys riding alongside their owners.

Last year, the Department of Transportation issued guidance stating that dogs, cats, and miniature horses could be accepted as service animals for transport — but on Wednesday, the agency reversed course, announcing that only dogs are to be considered legitimate service animals on commercial flights after passengers scammed the system to transport “unusual” pets in the cabin.

Under the revised rule, which takes effect in 30 days, airlines will no longer be required to consider emotional support pets as service animals. Only a dog who is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability” can be considered a service animal, the rule states. All others will have to be checked into the cargo hold — likely for a fee.

The Department of Transportation said the revision was prompted by disruptions caused by “unusual species of animals” on flights, which “eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals.”

The agency also said there had been an increase in the number of passengers “fraudulently representing their pets as service animals,” only for them to then misbehave during the flight.

Airlines have long complained that passengers have exploited vague rules and lack of regulation around service animals by claiming they need their pets for emotional support on flights.

In 2018, United Airlines refused to let a woman fly with her emotional support peacock, Dexter, even after she had purchased a separate seat for him.

Earlier that year, a 21-year-old woman admitted to flushing her “doctor-certified” comfort hamster down an airport toilet after Spirit Airlines refused to let the hamster board the flight.

In 2016, a man flew with his emotional support duck on a flight. And in 2014, a passenger was kicked off a US Airways flight after his emotional support pig pooped in the cabin.

Passengers have also been seen with “comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders, and more,” according to Delta, which cracked down on emotional support animals in 2018. The airline also banned “pit bull type” dogs as service or support animals.

However, under Department of Transportation rules, airlines are prohibited from banning service dogs based solely on their breeds.

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