New rules could bump emotional-support animals from planes

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FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo Oscar the cat, who is not a service animal, sits in his carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Industry officials believe many that hundreds of thousands of passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees, which Oscar’s owners paid. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

(AP)-Wednesday The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals, which must be allowed in the cabin at no charge.

Airlines could ban emotional-support animals including untrained dogs, cats and more exotic companions such as pigs, pheasants, rabbits and, snakes.

According to airlines, the number of support animals has grown dramatically in recent years. They lobbied the Transportation Department to crack down on what they consider a scam. Some are calling their pets emotional-support animals to avoid pet fees that generally run more than $100 each way.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. She said some of her union’s members were hurt by untrained pets.

Transportation Department officials said in a briefing with reporters that they proposed the changes to improve safety on flights. Some passengers have been bitten by support animals, and airlines complain that they relieve themselves on planes and in airports.

The proposed rules would prohibit airlines from banning particular types of dog breeds if the animal qualifies as a service dog, Delta Air Lines, which bans pit bulls, said it is studying the proposal.

The president of the Humane Society of the United States said airlines like Delta had maligned pit bulls. Kitty Block said the Transportation Department’s proposal to prohibit breed-specific bans “sends a clear message to airlines that their discriminatory practices are not only unsound but against the law.”

The new rules would also bar the current practice by many airlines of requiring animal owners to fill out paperwork 48 hours in advance.

Airlines could require that service animals be on a leash or harness and fit in its handler’s foot space. They could limit passengers to two service animals each, although it is unclear how often that happens under the current rules.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes.

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(This story was originally published on January 22, 2020)

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