a man taking his inhaler on a plane with a mini horse and a dog

Rule Updates To Bringing Animals On A Plane

Did you know that miniature horses can be trained to be service animals? I had no idea myself until I saw a photo of a cute mini horse squished between a woman’s knees and the back of an airplane seat.

A horse on a plane? Woah. I then had the thought, “If my partner got stuck on this flight, he might die." My partner has asthma, and is very allergic to horses. It’s wonderful that this woman has a horse that can help her navigate through travel. What about my partner and his asthma though?

Service animals vs. emotional support animals

Service animals are trained to complete tasks that their owners are unable to do. They are fantastic companions for those who need help navigating through everyday life. Service animals go through rigorous training and are not considered pets.

Emotional support animals are typically not trained but provide emotional comfort to their owners. For example, emotional support animals can be extremely important to a veteran that has PTSD. Technically, you need a letter from a therapist to claim your pet as an emotional support animal.1

The issue with support animals on planes

More and more people seem to be claiming their pet as an emotional support animal or service animal. Unfortunately, people claim this even if their pet is not trained to be so. To claim a pet as an emotional support animal, it is easy to forge a therapist's letter or get a fake letter on the internet. Some people make this claim about their pets to avoid the fee the airline companies charge for bringing a pet onboard. It is much easier to bring an animal onboard an airplane if you claim that it is not a pet.

This is an issue because it invalidates the importance of true service and emotional support animals. Bringing unnecessary pets along for your trip increases the number of animals onboard a plane and inside an airport. For someone with asthma and allergies, this is unsafe. More animals in an airport or on a flight increases the likelihood of experiencing a flare-up or a full-blown asthma attack.

Potential updates to the current rules

In January 2020, the Department of Transportation released a proposed set of updates to rules on service animals on a plane. These suggested updates seem to address the issue of animals affecting those with allergies on an airplane. If their proposed rules are put into action, only service animals would be allowed on a plane. If someone wanted to bring an emotional support animal on a plane, it would need the same training as service animals. Those who would like to bring their support animal on a plane must check-in early, and fill out required forms.2

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American has been advocating for these proposed updates to the current rules. The foundation shared that, "We have also met with the DOT [Department of Transportation] and airlines to discuss the need for rules that allow all people with disabilities (including asthma and allergies) to be treated fairly – not favoring one disability over another."3  In order to better accommodate those with asthma and allergies, the goal is to crack down on illegitimate service and emotional support animals.

Conclusion

If these proposed rules are put into place, hopefully, it will make traveling with asthma and allergies more manageable. The proposed rules seem to be an equal compromise between those who truly need service animals, and those who are allergic to certain animals. Traveling with asthma is challenging enough, but running into an animal you're allergic to could quickly turn into a disaster. My fingers are crossed that my partner and I won't end up on a flight with a cat or mini-horse anytime soon!

Have you experienced an allergic reaction to a service or support animal in an airport or on a plane? What are your thoughts on these proposed rules? Share in the comments below!

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