US airlines have passed a new rule to avoid overcrowding airports by prohibiting emotional support animals on flights. It will be mandatory for all airlines to follow the new policy by the end of this year.
Airlines have already been scaring passengers off flights by handing out “demerits” for bringing “emotional support” animals onboard. This “demerit” system was put in place last year after a horrifying case where an 80-year-old woman had to be helped off a United Airlines flight after an emotional support rabbit died in her hold. Some passengers were outraged that she was stripped of her flight for bringing the animal onboard. The punishment was particularly harsh after United had received similar complaints on an earlier flight, when a toddler was kicked off a flight because he did not have an emotional support dog onboard.
More than half of the tickets purchased last year included an emotional support animal. According to the federal Government Accountability Office, US airports have had to deal with an increased number of animals being brought on flights last year. This led to reports of terminal delays, a decrease in luggage, and travel disruptions caused by animals on planes. The new rule restricts emotional support animals from flights below 11,500 feet.
The new rule, approved at a Senate hearing last month, will require all airlines to abide by the new rules by the end of 2020.
“To us, the only logical explanation for a large and growing group of travellers effectively being treated as second-class citizens is that their emotional support animals don’t work,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said after the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation adopted the bipartisan legislation.
Other measures in the new FAA rule include exemption for vets providing certification or reporting information, some veterinarians holding special authorization to transport the animal, pets older than two months, senior citizens and the disabled; an age limit of 15 weeks old or eight months; no pets in the cabin while a passenger is asleep; and no sick animals or animals with infectious diseases. For those airlines who already fly different rules, this will be the third time they have been exempted from complying with regulations.
The Airport Authority of Metropolitan Atlanta (AMR) asked the Trump administration to review its rule, which it announced in February after the regulation came up for a first public hearing. That delay was put in place because the airports didn’t want to set a new standard that wasn’t followed by other airlines. The proposed regulations were upheld by the Office of Management and Budget, meaning the rule has become law.