The U.S. government has ruled that emotional support animals will no longer be considered service animals on flights in a decision that could earn airlines an extra $60million a year.
The Transportation Department issued a final rule on the Air Carrier Access Act Wednesday after years of tension between airlines and passengers who bring their pets on board for free by saying they need them for emotional support.
For years, the Transportation Department required airlines to allow animals with passengers who had a doctor’s note saying they needed the animal for emotional support.
Yet, airlines believed passengers abused the rule to bring a menagerie of animals on board including cats, ducks, turkeys, pigs, pandas, kangaroos and in one case, a peacock.
In August 2019, miniature horses were even added to the list of service animals allowed to travel on domestic flights under new guidelines provided by the federal government.
The agency said Wednesday that it was rewriting the rules partly because passengers carrying unusual animals on board ‘eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals.’
It also cited the increasing frequency of people ‘fraudulently representing their pets as service animals,’ and a rise in misbehavior by emotional-support animals.
The new rule will force passengers with emotional-support animals to check them into the cargo hold – and pay a pet fee that generally runs more than $100 each way. – or leave them at home.
The agency estimated airlines will earn up to $59.6 million a year in pet fees as a result.
Under the final rule, which takes effect in 30 days, a service animal is a dog trained to help a person with a physical or psychiatric disability.
Advocates for veterans and others had pushed for inclusion of psychiatric service dogs.
Airlines will also be able to require owners to vouch for the dog’s health, behavior and training.
They can require people with a service dog to turn in paperwork up to 48 hours before a flight, but they can’t bar those travelers from checking in online like other passengers.
Airlines can require that service dogs to be leashed at all times, and they can bar dogs that show aggressive behavior after incidents in which emotional-support animals bit passengers.
The new ruling also allows airlines the OK to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the airplane.
Also in Wednesday’s new ruling, the Transportation Department stood by an earlier decision to prohibit airlines from banning entire dog breeds.
That is a setback for Delta Air Lines, which banned ‘pit bull type dogs’ in 2018, a move that was criticized by disability advocates.
Delta, however, is giving no indication of backing down.
In a statement, a Delta spokeswoman said the airline is reviewing the new rule but, ‘At this time, there are no changes to Delta´s current service and support animal policies.’
The DoT revised the Air Carrier Access Act on Wednesday after receiving 15,000 comments on the proposal that was first pitched in January, according to Fox News.
Airlines argue that, in recent years, the number and types of support animals brought by passengers on flights has grown dramatically.
They lobbied the Transportation Department to crack down on what they consider a scam: passengers who call their pets emotional-support animals to avoid pet fees that generally run more than $100 each way.
Additionally, people with service animals say untrained creatures threaten their ability to fly with those that are properly trained.
Veterans groups sided with the airlines.
Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.
Delta said that cases of urination, defecation, biting and even a serious mauling rose 84 per cent between 2016 and 2020.
They accused passengers of ‘ignoring the true intent of existing rules’.
On the other side are people who say that an emotional-support animal helps them with anxiety or other issues that would prevent them from traveling or make it more stressful. They aren’t a very organized group, but there are lots of them.
Some reacted to the news on social media on Wednesday, stating that those who broke the rules have made it more difficult for those in need.
‘I got Raj as an emotional support animal in college when I was suicidal due to my depression, anxiety & OCD,’ wrote user Katherine Burgess. Raj is her cat.
‘Without protections for ESAs I couldn’t have had him in the dorms and would have had difficulty finding affordable rental housing that allowed him after college.
‘This is a step backward for people with legitimate mental illnesses who are helped greatly by their emotional support animals.’
‘Many people who have valid service animals can’t always afford “paperwork” as proof,’ wrote Twitter user Jackie.
‘I get that people abuse this, and that sucks. But no business or organization can require proof when having “proper documentation” isn’t accessible for everyone.’
‘We were on a flight and emotional support animal was so big he took up all the floor space in front of my husband’s seat,’ @aleth24 said of her experience.
‘The woman felt badly & said she tried to pay for both seats but was not allowed. Luckily husband is easy going, but def. could picture someone getting pretty upset.’
However, others sided with the airlines that they are not service animals.
‘I know a lot of people are going to be upset about this but when it comes down to it an emotional support animal is NOT the same as a trained service animal,’ wrote Twitter user doc queen.
‘They are not the same thing. So many people take advantage of ESAs and service animal laws and regulations.
‘It makes it really difficult for people who NEED their trained service animals, aka an animal that is trained to do you a necessary service, to make sure their rights are protected.’
‘As a trainer of service dogs, I’ve been appalled by the “emotional support” animal scam,’ added @wijisworld.
‘Persons who genuinely need service dogs are losing out because people don’t want to pay a fee. Bravo if this rule goes into effect.’
‘I sat next to a woman on a plane saying her Chihuahua was an emotional support animal but the dog just growled, barked and misbehaved the entire time it was on the plane,’ said another user named Rozanna. ‘We need a national registry for service and support animals.’
On Wednesday, Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, applauds the DoT’s final rules regarding traveling by air with service animals.
‘Airlines are committed to promoting accessibility for passengers with disabilities and ensuring their safe travel,’ said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio.
‘The Department of Transportation’s final rule will protect the traveling public and airline crewmembers from untrained animals in the cabin, as well as improve air travel accessibility for passengers with disabilities that travel with trained service dogs.’
The debate regarding emotional support animals on planes has heightened in recent years after some controversial incidents and a dramatic rise in requests.
According to A4A, the number of emotional support animals traveling aboard commercial flights increased from 481,000 in 2016 to 751,000 in 2017 and has only grown further.
In January 2018, a Brooklyn based artist was angered after she was denied her request to bring her emotional support peacock on a United Flight from Newark to LA.
The Bushwick-based photographer and performance artist Ventiko had reportedly offered to pay for a second seat to accommodate Dexter, but stressed that she had a right to bring him on board as her emotional support animal.
A month later, a French bulldog died inflight after being accidentally placed into an overhead bin by a United Airlines flight attendant for the duration of the trip.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Frances Mulroney