The past few years have seen an entire menagerie of “service” animals boarding passenger planes with their traveling humans. Many of those hard-working animals perform legitimate services, like Flirty the mini service horse who flew from Chicago to Omaha last year. But when a United Airlines passenger tried to pass a peacock as an emotional support animal, we couldn’t help but doubt the legitimacy of some people’s intentions. It turns out that the Department of Transportation has also had its doubts, and they’ve done something about it.
According to the DOT’s new ruling, dogs are now the only animals allowed to board passenger planes as service animals. The new definition of a service animal states, “…a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” The revision is part of the Air Carrier Access Act and excludes all other animals including mini horses, pigs, turkeys, and yes, even peacocks.
Along with the new definition, the DOT has declared that they no longer consider emotional support animals to be service animals. The change was spurred by an influx of people claiming their pets, and even livestock, as necessary for emotional support. In many of those cases, the animals were untrained or otherwise incapable of flying on a plane without disrupting other passengers.
In making this important decision, the DOT reportedly reviewed more than 15,000 comments made by people with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, and other members of the public. Many raised concerns about important issues including safety, sanitation, and inclusion. In the end, DOT administrators deemed it time to clarify regulations by drawing a firm and non-negotiable line between trained service dogs and all other animals.
The DOT does note, however, that psychiatric service animals will continue to be treated the same as service dogs that perform physical tasks. Everyone wishing to fly with a service dog is required to present a DOT form confirming the dog’s training, behavior, and health, and it still needs to fit within the handler’s allotted foot space while on the plane. They also need to be harnessed and leashed at all times, and airlines reserve the right to restrict the number of service dogs per flight to only two.
This new regulation doesn’t affect pets, like cats, that meet in-cabin requirements, but it will change flying for countless people. What do you think about the new rule? Is it a good idea?