The U.S. aviation industry’s largest trade group has submitted 41 pages of comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation pleading for the agency to narrow the regulatory protections for passengers traveling with support animals.
Faced with a growing number of passengers abusing regulations intended to protect travelers with disabilities, airlines in the U.S. are asking the Department of Transportation (USDOT) to clarify and, in some cases, limit rules covering service animals on commercial flights. Carriers including American, United, Delta and JetBlue have already tightened internal policies and restrictions for flyers traveling with emotional support animals (ESA), but now, Airlines for America (A4A), North America’s largest airline industry trade organization, has taken the case directly to federal regulators.
A recently submitted 41-page document outlines the airlines’ position, alleging that not only are an increasing number of passengers fraudulently claiming that pets and exotic animals are emotional support companions, but that current policies take resources away from travelers with a legitimate need for service animals. A4A told regulators that rather than protecting the rights of passengers with disabilities, the rules instead pose a very real danger to the flying public.
“Our member airlines have experienced a disturbing growth in the number of passengers with questionable claims of disability seeking to travel with animals that they suggest are necessary to provide ‘emotional support,’ but which are not trained as service animals (or even trained at all to behave in public settings like aircraft or airports),” A4A told regulators in the sweeping document. “These animals, which may include wild and/or untrainable species, often are unable to behave appropriately in a public setting, including within the confines of an aircraft cabin. This growth in the number of ESAs carried has been accompanied by a surge in the number of incidents involving animals manifesting aggressive behavior (including barking, biting, nipping, growling, and fighting) and uncontrolled urinating and defecating in cabin and in the airport terminal at locations other than service animal relief areas.”
The lobbying group notes that one of its member airlines reported an 84 percent rise in incidents involving misbehaving and vicious animals in just the last two years. A4A points out that in recent months passengers have used dubious service animal claims to bring an array of exotic species on flights including emotional support spiders, sugar gliders, a peacock, a turkey, pot belly pigs and hamsters.
“DOT’s service animal regulations pertaining to ESAs are not working and could have unexpected safety consequences,” the blistering report admonishes. “The DOT recognizes that ‘airlines have a responsibility to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all of [their] passengers and employees’ and that air transportation must remain ‘safe and accessible for everyone.’ Yet DOT’s regulations constrain airlines from meaningfully controlling fraud and reducing the likelihood of dangerous or disruptive behavior by these animals.”