And now for something completely different, a bit of good news out of the travel sector. This applies to one of my personal pet peeves… getting on a plane only to see someone with no apparent visual impairment or other disabilities sitting in the next seat with their “emotional support” dog. Or a cat. Or a bird. Those days may be coming to an end, however. The Department of Transportation is preparing new rules that will limit such animals in the plane’s cabin to only specially trained dogs and, even then, only with proper verification from an actual doctor. Praise the Lord and pass the emotional support bunny rabbit. (NBC News)
The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed new rules that would reign in the menagerie of service animals passengers have been carrying on flights under the guise of being service animals – the new rules would only allow specially trained dogs to fly under the service animal designation.
If this rule takes effect, the DOT would be cracking down on passengers using the loophole to travel with pets, effectively grounding miniature horses, turkeys, cats and various other critters that travelers have brought aboard flights as service animals.
While insisting that it “recognizes the integral role that service animals play in the lives of many individuals with disabilities,” the DOT said in a statement its new proposed rule is aimed at “reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claims their pets are service animals.”
As the NBC report goes on to point out, this problem has become increasingly common in recent years. In 2013 the DOT processed just over 700 passenger complaints about aggressive or unruly animals on airline flights. In 2018 there were more than 3,000 such complaints.
It wouldn’t be quite as bad if we were only talking about well-behaved dogs, but people are dragging all manner of animals onto planes. In addition to cats, pigs, rabbits, and even miniature horses, one woman did literally bring her emotional support peacock to the airport.
Some airlines, including United, Southwest, and Delta have created internal rules limiting the types and number of animals that are allowed, but those rules don’t always seem to be enforced. This is likely due to fears that they may face lawsuits from people who either have or claim to have various disabilities. With these new DOT rules in place, the rules should be standardized. It will also ease the airlines’ fears of liability since the blame can be passed off to Uncle Sam.
It’s been far too easy to get around the rules for people interested in doing so. There are websites where you can simply pay a fee and have a doctor send you a certification saying that your pet is an emotional support creature and you require it to fly. And without a doubt, the vast majority of these people don’t have any serious emotional disability. They just feel entitled to break the rules and bring their pet along with them.
Look, I’m a nervous flyer myself and always have been. And if I owned a small dog, I’m sure I’d be happy to have him or her flying with me. But flying on commercial airlines these days is already enough of a nightmare without turning the economy class cabin into a petting zoo. And that’s particularly true if you can’t keep your beast under control. So do us all a favor and leave your seizure-detecting bobcat home next time you book a flight.