Airlines Urge Clampdown On Flying With Pets

The U.S. Department of Transportation has agreed to revisit those rules. In comments due to the department by Monday to help shape that decision, airlines said current guidelines force them to accommodate a menagerie of critters that are too often poorly behaved, hurt passengers or leave messes for crew members to clean up.

“The regulations are unnecessarily broad and easily abused,” American Airlines Group Inc. AAL AAL >0.43% said in its letter to the department. “People have been bitten, licked, jumped on and growled at; aisles have been blocked, and animals have urinated and defecated on our airplanes.”

Carriers want the department to draw a distinction between trained service dogs that assist people with psychiatric or physical disorders, and animals that provide more passive emotional support.

Airlines, passengers and advocacy groups have been fighting over that distinction for years. Carriers don’t charge additional fees to passengers who travel with service animals or animals that provide emotional support. Flying with pets, meanwhile, can cost $125 or more for animals that travel in the cabin or in the cargo hold.

Some airlines have added their own restrictions on support animals.

Delta Air Lines Inc. DAL DAL >-0.20% and United Continental Holdings Inc. UAL UAL >0.22% earlier this year began requiring people seeking to fly with support animals to provide extra documentation and pledges that their animals would behave in flight. United reviewed its pet-transport policies more comprehensively after the death of a dog on a flight in March called attention to the airline’s procedures for transporting animals.

A ticketed airline passenger with a dog at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last year. A ticketed airline passenger with a dog at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last year. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Carriers say passengers are taking advantage of the agency’s broad definition of a service animal. Many passengers, they say, obtain “emotional support” certification for their pet from overly permissive online agencies or dress them up in official-looking vests to obtain free passage.

Some passengers, meanwhile, say emotional support status for their pets is critical to getting them through their flights. Holly Lipschultz, who lives in Chicago, says she brings her miniature schnauzer Pepper with her on flights to manage her anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

She carries a letter from her therapist explaining how Pepper helps accomplish that. “Having someone else to think about and take care of and hold helps,” she said.

She said some airline employees seem skeptical of Pepper’s qualifications. If the rules are tightened, Ms. Lipschultz, who is also deaf, said she may get him certified as a service animal.


Airlines For America, a trade group, estimates that the number of emotional support animals surged to 751,000 last year from 481,000 in 2016. That group and the International Air Transport Association said last month and reiterated in a comment Monday that the surge in support animals has “reached a tipping point.”

The trade associations and their member airlines want the Transportation Department to bring their guidelines in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which defines a service animal as a dog that has been trained to perform specific tasks for a disabled person. Airlines say service dogs for psychological or physical disabilities would still qualify but that such animals would be trained to handle the stress of flying.

The Transportation Department in May issued interim guidelines on how it will enforce these rules, saying that during the rule-making process it would focus enforcement on “clear violations of the current rule that have the potential to adversely impact the largest number of persons.” The department didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Some groups say narrowing the rules will create too many hurdles for people with mental health issues. Groups including the National Disability Rights Network told the Transportation Department on Monday that airlines should have to recognize both service and support animals and that animals besides dogs should qualify. If they don’t, people who need these animals’ help to fly may have to find another way to travel, the group said.

But some disability rights groups and mental health professionals agree with the airlines. The American Psychological Association in a comment dated Friday that scant evidence supports the idea that support animals can make flying more tolerable.

“Emotional support animals are clearly different from service animals and as such should not be afforded the same status as service animals,” the association said.

Write to Alison Sider at

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Airlines Urge Clampdown On Flying With Pets


Airlines Urge Clampdown On Flying With Pets

Airlines Urge Clampdown On Flying With Pets


Airlines Urge Clampdown On Flying With Pets