New federal rule paves the way for airlines to ban emotional support animals on flights

The revised rule more strictly defines a service animal as only ‘a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.’

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A service dog strolls through the isle inside a United Airlines plane at Newark Liberty International Airport.

A service dog strolls through the isle inside a United Airlines plane at Newark Liberty International Airport.

AP

The federal Department of Transportation nolonger considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal, paving the way for airlines to ban them on commercial flights.

The revised Air Carrier Access Act rules definea service animal as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.”

The definition matters because the requires airlines to allow passengers to take service animals with them when they fly on commercial airlines.

Policies will be set by individual airlines but must conform to the DOT rules, which will go into effect 30 days after the final ruling is published in the Federal Register.

The changes are a departure from theprevious DOT guidance, issued last year, that saidairlines could not keep passengers from traveling with emotional support animals nor could they ban a particular breed or species of support animal.

Some people ‘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.’

Airlines are now prohibited from refusing service dogs based on breed, and that prohibition will continue under the new rules.

Airlines have questioned whether somepassengers might try to pass off their pets as support animals — among these cats, rabbits and bird — to avoid paying fees for taking them on flights.

The new rule will allow airlines to require people flying with a service animal to fill out a formup to 48 hours in advance of travel. They’ll also be allowed to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the plane, which could be problematic for larger service animals.

The federal agency got more than 15,000 commentson the proposed policy before making a decision on the change.

Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional support animals in airline cabins. And when the federal government proposed the rule change in January, disability advocates and airline personnel were in favor.

“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals,” Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, said at the time. He said some people “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 main trade group for major U.S. airlines praised the proposal earlier this year, too, with Nicholas Calio, the president of Airlines for America, saying, “The proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone.”

Flight attendants pushed to rein in support animals.

“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.

Read more at usatoday.com.

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