Federal proposal would allow airlines to block emotional support animals from flying

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The concept of pets on planes has become a hot-button issue of late as emotional support animals have become more prominent than ever. (Shelly Yang/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A federal proposal unveiled Wednesday would free airlines from special requirements to accommodate passengers’ emotional support animals, a designation the industry believes some passengers are abusing to bring untrained pets onboard aircraft.

The Transportation Department proposal would “allow airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets rather than service animals.”

Airlines are not required to transport passengers’ pets, and those that do typically charge fees and limit the number and size of pets that may travel.

The department cited a number of reasons for the change, including the unusual status emotional support animals enjoy in air travel.

“Animals on aircraft may pose a risk to the safety, health, and well-being of passengers and crew and may disturb the safe and efficient operation of the aircraft,” the proposal says. “Airlines have reported increases in the number of behavior-related service animal incidents on aircraft, including urinating, defecating, and biting.”

The proposal would also allow only dogs to fly as service animals, a department official told reporters on a briefing call.

“Passengers have attempted to fly with many different unusual species of animals, such as a peacock, ducks, turkeys, pigs, iguanas, and various other types of animals as emotional support or service animals,” the proposal says, which has caused confusion among passengers and burdened airline employees.

For service animals, the proposal would explicitly prohibit airlines from discriminating by breed. In 2018. Delta attempted to ban pit bulls from traveling as service or emotional support animals, citing biting incidents.

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