If you need your pet to accompany you on an airplane for emotional support, you’d better try getting over that dependency, or else forget about flying altogether.
The Associated Press reports that the United States Department of Transportation has issued a new proposal, namely, that only specially trained service dogs (e.g. seeing eye dogs) be allowed to fly in the cabin at no charge.
The express goal is to improve flight safety and comfort: airlines have complained that passengers have been bitten by emotional support animals, and that the animals sometimes use airports and airplanes as open toilets. But it would also have the effect of preventing passengers from taking advantage of the service animal policies that waive the fee typically associated with carrying a pet on board.
For years, travelers have been flying with all sorts of animals (from dogs and cats to pigs and snakes) under the pretext of “emotional support.” That designation enables them to avoid paying the $100 or so normally charged by airlines.
More and more people are doing it. Southwest Airlines now accommodates over 190,000 emotional support animals per year. In 2017, American Airlines accommodated nearly 156,000 (48 percent more than in 2016), while United Airlines accommodated 76,000.
“The proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone,” said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.
This practice annoys not only the airlines but also organizations dedicated to helping people with disabilities.
Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, says he supports the Department of Transportation’s proposal.
“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals,” he told the AP, adding that he disapproves of people who “want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them.”
The new proposal stipulates that “service animal” can only apply to dogs that are trained to assist their owners with their disabilities, including psychological disabilities. Passengers bringing a service animal onto a plane would be obliged to sign a federal form confirming that the dog is trained to provide needed assistance. They would also have to check in earlier than other passengers.
Other groups have voiced support for proposal as well.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, responded to the news by saying that “The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end.”
Groups representing military veterans are also in favor of the proposed changes. For years they have argued that the use of emotional support animals has given real service animals a bad reputation.
According to the AP, “Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.”