News & Politics

Proposed Rule Would Bar Most 'Emotional Support' Animals from Planes

Proposed Rule Would Bar Most 'Emotional Support' Animals from Planes
Peata Therapy Dog Carol Service. 'Billy the labrador' during the annual lunchtime Peata Therapy Dog Carol Service at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. December 12, 2017. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire URN: 34117434)

The Transportation Department is proposing a new rule that would give airlines the leeway to classify certain “emotional support” animals as pets, thus allowing the companies to deny them a seat on an aircraft.

The industry has been complaining for years that a wide variety of exotic — even ridiculous — animals has been declared by their owners as “emotional support” animals, forcing the airlines to accommodate them. By being given the power to reclassify the animals as “pets,” companies can more easily control the practice.


It would continue to require airlines [to] accommodate service animals, but restrict that category to dogs only. The current regulations allow a limited list of service animals species, including miniature horses.

The department is considering expanding the proposal to allow miniature horses, but is concerned they are less agile in the confined spaces of an aircraft, according to a Transportation Department official who briefed reporters on Wednesday morning.

The proliferation of websites selling a doctor’s certification that a passenger requires an emotional support animal “has enabled people who are not truly in need of animal assistance to abuse the rules and evade airline policies regarding animals in the cabin,” said the Airlines for America industry group.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. Indeed, the list of bizarre animals used for “emotional support” makes a mockery of the practice.

Honest to Paws:

Turkeys: These therapeutic birds are allowed to fly in a purchased airline seat with their handler under the Air Carrier Access Act. Normally Delta doesn’t allow certain animals in the cabin, but this turkey got VIP access.

Kangaroo: American Airlines has had not one but two emotional support kangaroos board their planes. One kangaroo sat in their own first class seat, while another spent the flight curled up on the lap of their owner.

Turtles: Several flight attendants have reported seeing support turtles on their flights. One even recounted a time where she found an emotional support turtle suctioned to the airplane window so they “had a better view.”

Hedgehog: One woman, 21-year-old Jennifer Goldberg, said she brought her emotional support hedgehog to many stressful situations, like, of course, flying. Delta made an exception for the roly-poly little guy.

The list is mindboggling: goldfish, peacocks, hamsters, snakes — along with miniature horses and llamas. I don’t mind most animals, but I think I’d demand a refund from the airline if they put me next to a horse — miniature or not.

I am not belittling emotional support animals in general. Most of our dog and cat companions are wonderful for emotional support. Nor am I underplaying the genuine fear some people have of flying.

My beef is with those who use that supposed fear as an excuse to indulge their fetishistic desire for attention. A goldfish is not an emotional support animal, no matter how many quack doctors’ notes you have saying otherwise.

It’s a good, common-sense proposal to end the open-ended practice of flying all sorts of creatures under the guise of “emotional support.”