January 22, 2020 / 2:57 PM / a month ago

No more turkeys or possums as U.S. seeks to redefine "service animals" flying with their owners

WASHINGTON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department on Wednesday proposed new rules aimed at preventing passengers from falsely claiming their pets are service animals aboard U.S. airline flights.

In the biggest change, the department suggests no longer considering an emotional support animal to be a service animal. Federal law allows passengers with disabilities to travel with service animals.

The department said the proposal “is intended to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system” and will be open for public comment, adding it “wants to ensure that individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals.”

U.S. airlines including Southwest Airlines Co, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines have moved to limit emotional support animals in cabins to largely dogs and cats after a growing number of passengers were bringing a wide variety of exotic pets that could pose a safety risk. Airlines in recent years reported a big jump in travelers bringing animals aboard.

Delta noted in 2018 that some passengers “attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes” and spiders, while American Airlines in 2018 said it would not allow a wide variety of creatures on flights as support animals including goats, ferrets, hedgehogs, amphibians and reptiles.

The Trump administration’s proposal would 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.”

The administration’s proposal would 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.”

Airlines would be able to require forms developed by the Transportation Department 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.”

The administration proposal would also allow airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals and could require service animals to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft. (Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Nick Macfie)

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