In a recent decision by the federal government, they have decided that only dogs can be service animals and that companion animals used for emotional support no longer count. The Transportation Department issued a final rule on Wednesday this week meant to settle years of disputes over animals on airplanes. The department has decided that only dogs can fly for free as service animals, and that emotional support animals may be boarded with pet fees in the cargo hold but may be banned from coming on-board with the passenger. In the past, the department required that airlines allow animals with passengers who had a doctor's note saying they were needed for emotional support. Many airlines complained that passengers abused this rule to bring a variety of pets along with them including cats, turtles, pot-bellied pigs, and others. The department believes that the use of unusual emotional support animals "eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals". The ruling also cited the increasing frequency of people "fraudulently representing their pets as service animals" as problematic. In addition, the rise in misbehavior by emotional support animals, ranging from peeing on the carpet to biting other passengers were reasons they have decided to take this new approach.
The new rule takes effect in 30 days. Going forward a service animal is defined as a dog trained to help a person with a physical or psychiatric disability. Advocates for veterans and others had pushed for the inclusion of psychiatric service dogs for those who were not disabled but did suffer from serious mental health issues. Unfortunately, the rule did not make that exception and will only cover service dogs assigned to a passenger with a physical or psychiatric disability diagnosis. The debate over this issue is heated. With thousands of people supporting the use of emotional support animals, particularly people suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD, the department said. On the other side of this issue, thousands complain about the behavior of animals on planes and believe that only legitimate service animals should be allowed on board. The new rule will make passengers with emotional support animals check them into the cargo hold - and pay a pet fee - or leave them at home. The fee is up to $175 one-way on some airlines.
The number of animals on planes increased significantly several years ago, and as a side industry grew around providing papers for support animals. Some even advertised these letters for pets, which is one reason airlines cited that they felt some passengers abused this privilege. Delta Air Lines says it carried about 250,000 animals including service dogs in 2017 and about 600,000 last year. Airlines will now be able to require passengers to confirm the service dog's health, behavior, and proper training. They may also require that service dogs be leashed at all times, and they can ban dogs that demonstrate visibly aggressive behavior. This is to address issues that arise between emotional support animals and other passengers or even other service animals. There were reported cases of emotional support animals barking at or growling at other legitimate service animals for disabled passengers. Airlines for America, stated they believe the new rule will protect passengers and airline employees while helping people travel safely with trained service dogs.