Some folks never leave home without their furry friends. But traveling with pets on a plane isn’t for everyone: the yapping, the nipping, the . . . uh-oh, “accidents.” A new ruling may mean some of Fido’s free rides are coming to an end.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued a decision about animals on planes. The rule aims to settle years of tension between airlines and passengers who tote pets on board by saying they need them for emotional help.
For years, all passengers needed was a note from a health expert. Now transportation officials say emotional support companions don’t count. Only dogs can fly free, and they must be service (not merely support) animals.
Airlines insist passengers are to blame for the change. Evidently, some animal lovers connived dishonest ways to get pets on planes. These patrons lugged something of a cumulative zoo on board, including ducks, kangaroos, monkeys, squirrels, turtles, turkeys, pot-bellied pigs, ponies, and, in one case, a peacock. Some also “[misrepresented] their pets as service animals” by obtaining fake papers, doctor’s notes, and support dog vests.
Many of these untrained animals misbehaved—including weeing (or worse!) on the carpet, barking at legitimate guide dogs, or biting other passengers.
The transportation department first proposed the new rule last year. WORLDteen covered the service/support animal dispute in Service Dog Confusion. The article notes that unclear rules, poor enforcement, and human dishonesty were blurring the lines between service and emotional support animals.
More than 15,000 comments poured in to the department. Some 3,000 commenters favored dropping protections for support animals. But 6,000 commenters spoke in favor of the safeguards, including people suffering from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Under the new rule, airlines may require owners to vouch for a service dog’s health, behavior, and training and submit paperwork before a flight. Airlines can also require service dogs to be leashed at all times or ban aggressive dogs.
The rule forces passengers to check support animals into the cargo hold—and pay a pet fee—or leave them at home. That change could net airlines almost $60 million per year!
Critics contend the fees place a hardship on low-income people. The Paralyzed Veterans of America say the mere presence of a dog, cat, or rabbit—even untrained—helps some travelers.
Animals provide genuine comfort and support for some people. But transportation officials say dishonest practices “eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals.” Such selfish behavior kicks all support animals off the plane—and into the doghouse.
*A service animal is a specially trained dog. Service dogs perform tasks related to physical disability that an individual cannot do for him or herself. A support animal is any animal (trained or untrained) used to relieve emotional distress.