(CNN) – Airlines are banned from banning certain breeds of dogs on board flights as service or emotional support animals, the U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday amid controversy over passenger safety and abuse of emotional support policies.
The recommendations made by the department’s officials seem to overturn the recently announced Delta Air Lines policy, which prohibits “pit bull dogs” from traveling as service or emotional support animals.
Airlines are allowed to determine whether a pet is safe to travel on a case-by-case basis, and airlines may also require people traveling with emotionally supported animals to check in at the airport lobby instead of online to allow an airline official to view the animal.
“The airline has the authority to conduct an individual assessment of any dog, each breed of dog, and if any dog - regardless of breed – is definitely a risk to the health or safety of other passengers, the airline may refuse boarding,” a spokesman told reporters. who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Department of Transportation is developing new long-term rules for passengers with service animals.
The department will not seek to invalidate airline policies that prohibit animals other than dogs, cats and miniature horses – the most common species of service animals – from traveling as emotional support animals, officials said.
Airlines will have one month to change policies that do not conform to interpretation. They did not specify which politicians or airlines, in their opinion, do not comply.
The airline said it supports the DOT recommendations because of concerns about passengers abusing animal allowances for emotional support, or ESA.
“The availability of fake ESA credentials on the Internet has allowed people who really do not need animal help to abuse the rules and evade airline policies regarding cabinet animals,” the Airlines for America industry group said. “As more than a million passengers were brought on ESA flights last year, incidents such as bites and splits by unprepared animals have risen sharply at airlines and airports.
In a recent incident two weeks ago, a flight attendant was bitten by an animal of emotional support five stitches required. The airline did not disclose what breed of dog was involved in the incident, nor did it disclose whether it believed the animal was in fact an emotional support animal.
Delta said Thursday it is considering changes. He imposed a ban on pit bulls, “to reinforce our core value – always put safety and people first.”
“Delta is constantly reviewing and improving its policies and procedures regarding animals on board as part of its commitment to health, safety and the protection of the rights of customers with disabilities,” the airline said in a statement.
One union representing flight attendants also expressed concern about false claims about the animal’s emotional support status. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said the recommendations were “an important step in eliminating what has become a mess with animals in the cabin.”
“Clear rules are needed to ensure access to animal care for people with disabilities and our veterans, while maintaining the safety, health and safety of all passengers and crew on board our aircraft,” the group said in a statement.
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