In 2018, United Airlines refused to allow a peacock onboard its flight as an emotional support animal. Now airlines have the DOT on their side as the new rules allow them to limit animals on planes to qualified service animals who are trained to assist individuals with disabilities.
For years, commercial airlines were required to allow passengers to bring service animals onboard flights. Most of us think of service animals as those that help people with obvious disabilities, such as guide dogs for the blind. Many believe some passengers abused that rule to bring all sorts of animals aboard commercial airplanes for reasons such as emotional support. As a result, airlines had to deal with ducks, goats, pigs, even a peacock or a kangaroo. They suspected some folks falsely claimed their pets were service animals just so they could bring them on the flight.
Well, it seems the circus is over. In December, new rules set forth by the Department of Transportation narrowly define a service animal as a dog, more specifically one “individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.” The passenger traveling with a service dog must present a completed Service Animal Air Transportation Form issued by the DOT, listing details about the dog’s health, behavior and training.
Several airlines immediately changed their policies to limit which animals would be allowed on board their planes, and others followed suit. Now, Southwest Airlines announced that, beginning March 1st, it will allow only a trained service dog, with credentials, to travel with a customer – in effect, banning emotional support animals. They referenced the many concerns raised by airline personnel and passengers about problems caused by untrained animals in the plane’s cabin.
The airlines all say they believe the new policy will help enhance the overall travel experience for everyone, while keeping air travel accessible for passengers with disabilities.
For some who do not want to leave their pets behind when they travel, the plane’s cargo hold may be the only option; but most pet experts say, that can put your best friend at serious risk. If you love your pet, you might want to find another way to travel. Or, consider a stay-cation, where you can both be safe – at home - together – when you’re speaking of pets.