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Emotional support animals on airlines get their wings clipped

Published: (Updated: ) in USA news by .

DOT said it will no longer consider animal companions used by travelers on commercial flights for emotional support as “service animals.”

Your pet peacock may soon not be allowed to fly the friendly skies with you anymore, now that the Transportation Department is tightening rules on "emotional support animals" after a series of high-profile incidents on board airplanes.

On Wednesday, DOT said it will no longer consider animal companions used by travelers on commercial flights for emotional support as "service animals," opening the door for airlines to ban them outright.

Passengers who wish to bring their emotional support animals with them when they travel will likely now have to check them as baggage or leave them at home entirely.

The new rule, which updates the definition of a service animal to "a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability," was issued following a litany of complaints from airlines and flight attendants alike about people bringing unusual animals — including pigs, gerbils, turtles and birds, among others — on board that they claimed were for emotional support.

The details: The final rule narrows the definition of a service animal. An "emotional support animal" will no longer fall under the definition of a service animal, DOT said, though airlines will still be required to treat psychiatric support animals as service animals.

Airlines will be permitted to limit the number of service animals per traveler to two and to require the traveler to submit DOT-approved forms with information about the animal's health, behavior and training prior to boarding the flight. However, carriers cannot require that passengers traveling with a service animal physically check-in instead of doing so online.

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The rule also allows airlines to place restrictions on the size of the animal and to require that it be harnessed, leashed or tethered. They also can refuse to allow service animals that behave aggressively on board but cannot discriminate based on breed, DOT said.

What's next: The final rule will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

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