Flying with your emotional support peacock or hamster? No. But with your service dog, or even two — that’s okay on US airlines, regulators have decided.
The US Department of Transportation issued a final rule on Wednesday 2 December on what kind of “service animals” airlines are required to accommodate on board flights in the United States.
Airlines pressured by mental health advocates
The practice of flying with a pet for emotional support has exploded over recent years, with travellers seeking to board with all sorts of non-human mental health aides: Pigs, parrots, monkeys, ducks, a peacock, and even, in one genuine attempt, a miniature horse.
That has challenged airlines pressured by mental health advocates to accommodate such travellers.
But, the department said, there has been a rise in disruptions on board by “unusual species” and misbehaving animals, “which has eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals.”
Only dogs qualify as ‘service animals’
The Transportation Department’s conclusion? Only man’s best friend, canines, qualify as “service animals” for special boarding permissions to accompany people with physical, psychiatric or mental disabilities.
The rest are just “pets”.
The ruling defines a service animal as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability”.
That means that airlines will require Transportation Department forms attesting to the dog’s health and training, and for long flights, that the dog “can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner”.