Pet owners love the liberal policies but many passengers aren’t fans of sharing space with questionable ‘service’ animals
Service animals provide a vital role for people in need. They help blind individuals navigate. They provide low sugar alerts for diabetics and they can respond to seizures for epileptics. Real service dogs provide services for those in need.
Yet if you’ve flown in the past 10 years, there has been an explosion in flying emotional support animals (ESAs) and questionable service animals at airports and on airplanes whose behavior more resembles an untrained pet than a true service dog. Passengers who fly with these questionable animals have exploited the loose regulations. They claim that their pet is an emotional support animal. They either print off documentation from the internet or get a medical professional to sign off. With a couple papers in hand, pets then effectively fly free. With less and less personal space on planes and a host of pet behavioral issues on flights, people are speaking up. And the good news is that the US Department of Transportation is actually listening.
Miniature horse allowed onboard plane as “emotional support” animal. pic.twitter.com/D6XVO6elf5— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) August 9, 2019
DOT proposes putting emotional support animals on a leash
In 2018, the Department of Transportation received a total of 115 complaints about service animals. While the overall number is relatively low number, that represents a 64% increase in complaints over 2017. Airlines also received over 3,000 complaints collectively in 2018. In their proposed rule change, the DOT cited that inconsistent rules apply for service animals and emotional support animals. Department of Justice’s official regulations do not recognize emotional support animals as service animals because they have not been trained for a specific task to assist someone with a disability. Yet DOT rules currently cite that ESAs are service animals, permitting them to freely accompany their human in the airport and on aircraft.
In the proposed change, the DOT won’t make ESAs prohibited in airports and on airplanes. Instead, they will allow airlines to place additional limitations on ESAs and/or prohibit them all together on flights. The airline could place other restrictions on ESAs like requiring passengers to check in before most other passenger are required to show. Passengers with ESAs would also be required to show that the animal has a DOT Animal Air Transportation Health Form. Airlines can also place limits on the size and type of animal
Is the change a good thing?
In citing the rationale for the change, the DOT stated that abuse of the current policy does occur. Some passengers are suspected to have flown their pets under the ESA program. Advocates for the change include disabilities groups who say that misbehaving and unusual animals like snakes, rabbits, and even a peacock can erode the trust in the public’s understanding of service animals. Some other advocates worry about the increased burden that ESA owners will have to prove that their animal is a legit need.
There are other reasons that this proposed change makes sense. Many people have allergies to dogs and cats. There have been cases where people who had allergies were denied boarding on a flight while the animal remained. One recent allergic attacks happened in flight. In other cases, people have brought along miniature horses. One lady even tried to bring along a peacock. With limited space in the cabin to begin with, passengers don’t deserve that kind of hassle when traveling.
The public now has 60 days to submit a comment on the policy change. So what do you think…Should the DOT change the policy?