In a final ruling issued on Wednesday, the Transportation Department declared that only dogs can be classified as service animals, and canines used for emotional support would not fall under that classification. The decision is a shift from the previous requirement that airlines were required to allow animals on board as long as a passenger had a doctor's note specifying that they were required for emotional support. This has led animals including cats, turtles, pigs and peacocks to join flights and caused airlines to allege passengers were abusing the rules.
In its announcement, the department noted that the growing number of passengers who are "fraudulently representing their pets as service animals" and the unprofessional behavior of the animals -- including cases of other passengers being bitten -- has caused a growing lack of trust in legitimate service animals. It has received more than 15,000 comments on this notice of proposed rulemaking.
"The final rule announced today addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft."
Once the ruling goes into effect in 30 days, a service animal will be classified solely as a dog trained to help a person with a physical or psychiatric disability. Owners will have to substantiate their dog's health, behavior and training with paperwork that must be submitted up to 48 hours before a flight. Passengers with service animals will still be able to check in online.
Any person flying with an emotional service animal will be required to check them into the cargo hold and pay a fee or be forced to leave them at home. The additional revenue for airlines from checking fees could reach an estimated $59.6 million, according to the Transportation Department.
Airlines will also be able to issue their own requirements regarding service animals on flights. This includes dogs being leashed throughout the trip as well as airlines having the right to deny those showing aggressive behavior from boarding a flight. However, the Transportation Department retained its ruling that barred airlines from issuing any blanket bans on specific dog breeds. This ruling came in response to the decision made by Delta Air Lines in 2018 that banned "pit bull type dogs," as reported by the Associated Press.
"At this time, there are no changes to Delta's current service and support animal policies," read a statement released by Delta responding to the ruling.