Flight attendants are applauding the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) bid to restrict the types of animals allowed in cabins, saying emotional support animals have threatened the safety and health of crew members as well as passengers.

Amid a surge in passengers claiming that their emotional support animals – of many species – must fly with them in the passenger areas of planes, the DOT has released a notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks to amend the definition of a service animal in air transportation.

The NPRM proposes to: 

  • Define 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;
  • No longer consider an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
  • Consider a psychiatric service animal to be a service animal and require the same training and treatment of psychiatric service animals as other service animals;
  • Allow airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s good behavior, certifying the service animal’s good health, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal has the ability to either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
  • Allow airlines to require passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to check-in at the airport one hour prior to the travel time required for the general public to ensure sufficient time to process the service animal documentation and observe the animal;
  • Require airlines to promptly check-in passengers with service animals who are subject to an advanced check-in process;
  • Allow airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals;
  • Allow airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
  • Continue to allow airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, tethered, or otherwise under the control of its handler;
  • Continue to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
  • Continue to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely on the basis of breed.

A turkey, duck, peacock, kangaroo and other species have been allowed to travel in cabins, sometimes roaming freely during the flight.

Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) Sara Nelson said the practice has “skyrocketed” in recent years. “Untrained pets should never roam free in the aircraft cabin. Flight attendants have been hurt and safety has been compromised by untrained animals loose in the cabin.”

The AFA represents 50,000 Flight Attendants at 20 airlines.

Nelson called the proposed rule “welcome news” and said it “sets clear definitions and guidance to ensure people with disabilities and our veterans have necessary service animal assistance”  while maintaining safe conditions onboard planes.

"The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end. Passengers can still travel with animals under their preferred carrier’s pet program.

The AFA represents 50,000 Flight Attendants at 20 airlines.

The DOT is seeking comments on the NPRM, which can be found at regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2018-0068.