Planes have gone to the dogs — and lots of other animals.
The organization Airlines for America — which represents major carriers such American Airlines and Southwest Airlines — is asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to restrict the type of animals considered “service” pets to only dogs.
Currently, the USDT allows all comfort animals that provide “emotional support” onto flights for free. The guidelines permit myriad species singling out only “snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders, and spiders” as animals that airlines are “never required to accept.”
Airlines for America is asking for the law to stipulate that only “trained dogs that perform a task or work for an individual with a disability” will be allowed to fly.
“It strikes most people as absurd that, under DOT’s current rules, airlines must consider allowing, for example, pigs and birds to travel in cabin on a case-by-case basis,” Airlines for America wrote in its request to the federal government.
The airlines claim that although a partial ban may ruffle the feathers of some emotional support peacocks, only extreme limitations will reduce the climbing number of animals brought onto planes.
According to Airlines for America, “U.S. airlines accommodated more than 750,000 ESAs (emotional support animals) in cabin” in 2017 – some of which are not guide dogs for the blind or pups trained to get help in a medical emergency. The organization said that there has been an almost 50% increase in emotional support animals flying on American Airlines in the last two years alone.
In response, American has changed its rules and banned tarantulas, ferrets, goats and hedgehogs from riding shotgun with their owners.
These emotional support pets are, for the most part, well-behaved, Airlines for America concedes. But some of them are not legally certified and are issued papers from websites that look like medical proof for a fee.
The DOT’s broad definition of what constitutes a service animal as any that’s “individually trained to assist a person with a disability” or that is “necessary for the emotional well-being of a passenger” leaves the cockpit door wide open.
“DOT’s failure to differentiate between service animals (trained to perform a function as well as to behave appropriately in public places) and untrained ESAs has unintentionally created a huge and growing problem in air transportation,” the group argued.
It doesn’t support the allowance of ESAs “because they are not highly trained animals, and (their) lack of training puts passengers and team members at risk.”