US proposes ban on free flights for emotional support animals
This could be the end of the emotional support peacock.
The US transport department on Wednesday unveiled a proposal that would ban air passengers from flying with animals for free by claiming they need them to support their emotional wellbeing.
The rules could end years of controversy over passengers attempting to bring their pets on aircraft, including increasingly exotic animals from monkeys to goats and even a peacock on one occasion.
The department said in a statement it “wants to ensure that individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals while also reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claim their pets are service animals”.
Under current US rules, airlines must allow passengers to bring animals on board for free if they provide assistance for passengers with disabilities, or if they are deemed necessary for the passenger’s emotional health. Typically, passengers have provided a letter from a healthcare professional as evidence that the animal is needed.
Airlines say the number of passengers trying to travel with emotional support animals has jumped in recent years. Delta Air Lines said in 2018 it flew around 250,000 animals a year, more than double the number in 2015.
The system has attracted complaints that some passengers were trying to avoid a fee that could otherwise run to over $100.
Last year a flight attendant was bitten by an emotional support dog, triggering calls from unions for tighter rules on which animals can fly for free.
In 2018, United Airlines stopped a woman travelling with a peacock named Dexter that she said was needed for her emotional health. The same year American Airlines published a lengthy list of animals it would no longer allow to travel free as service animals, including ferrets, goats and hedgehogs.
The new proposals by the transport department would mean that only specially-trained dogs could count as service animals, and that airlines can demand that passengers have to fill in forms attesting to the animal’s training and behaviour before flying.
Airlines will still have to allow psychiatric service dogs for people with diagnosed psychiatric conditions, but those dogs will have to undergo the same level of training as other service animals. Airlines will be allowed to limit the number of service animals to two per passenger, but not to ban certain breeds of dog.
The department is giving people 60 days to comment on the plans before publishing its final proposal.