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Dogs are the only service animals allowed to fly on passenger planes, DOT rules

Emotional support animals are no longer considered service animals, which the Transportation Department now defines solely as trained dogs.
Image: airplane service dog
A service dog strolls through the aisle of a United Airlines plane at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., while taking part in a training exercise on April 1, 2017. Julio Cortez / AP file

The era of emotional support pigs and peacocks on airplanes is about to end after the Transportation Department ruled Wednesday that dogs are the only animals defined as service animals.

The regulation tightens the reins after a yearslong battle between airlines and passengers who have requested permission to carry a menagerie of animals onboard in the name of "emotional support."

According to the Transportation Department, a service animal is defined as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.

"The Department received more than 15,000 comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking," the agency said Wednesday. "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."

Emotional support animals are no longer considered service animals, but the ruling still requires airlines to allow dogs that are psychiatric service animals.

Passengers and airlines have been scrapping about the issue for years, as customers have flown with emotional support peacocks, pigs and turkeys. In 2018, United Airlines barred a peacock from boarding one of its planes as the fowl "did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size."

The same year, Delta announced that it was shortening its leash with new policies for support animals. The carrier said it would require passengers to provide proof of their pets' training and vaccinations 48 hours before they board, along with signed documentation that the animals will behave on board.

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Delta said employees reported increased acts of aggression by service and support animals that typically do not occur with properly trained service animals.

American Airlines offered a list of banned animals when it updated its policy in 2018, which included a ban on amphibians, ferrets, goats, hedgehogs, spiders, sugar gliders, waterfowl and animals with tusks, horns or hooves — although the company did note that miniature horses that have been "properly trained as service animals" could be an exception to the hooves policy.

Wednesday's official ruling allows airlines to require passengers to provide forms attesting to their service animals' training and behavior up to 48 hours before their flights. Airlines will also retain the right to refuse animals that display aggressive behavior.

The ruling will take effect 30 days after date of publication in the Federal Register.