May 16, 2018 / 6:16 PM / 6 days ago

Airlines must continue to accept service animals: U.S. agency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department told U.S. airlines on Tuesday that they must continue to allow the transport of the most common service animals, but said it was asking for public comment about amending its existing regulations.

The department said in a statement that it “wants to ensure that individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals while also helping to ensure that the fraudulent use of other animals not qualified as service animals is deterred.”

There are growing concerns among airlines about passengers bringing aboard exotic creates that could pose a safety risk, and companies have recently begun tightening requirements.

The Transportation Department said it would focus on ensuring that U.S. carriers continue to accept the most commonly used service animals - dogs, cats, and miniature horses. Enforcement actions relating to other service animals would be on a case-by-case basis, it added.

Existing rules allow U.S. airlines to deny transport to animals such as snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders.

The government said it would act if airlines denied passengers with service animals the benefits of early or online check-in available to other passengers. It also said it would take action to prevent airlines from requiring advance notice from passengers traveling with certain service animals, such as guide dogs for the blind.

It asked a number of questions about how it might revise its regulations.

Airlines have complained that some passengers are falsely claiming that pets are emotional support or psychiatric service animals to avoid paying. The Transportation Department said passengers “have attempted to fly with peacocks, ducks, turkeys, pigs, iguanas” and other animals.

In March, Delta Air Lines tightened the requirements for passengers traveling with onboard service and emotional support animals, following a sharp uptick in pet-related safety issues in recent years.

American Airlines on Monday announced new restrictions on emotional support animals, saying it would ban in-cabin transport of insects, hedgehogs, goats and animals with tusks, horns or hooves as support animals.

Delta said in January that there had been a spike in the number of reported animal incidents in recent years, including urination, defecation, biting, and a high-profile 2017 mauling of a passenger by an emotional support dog.

Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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