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New onboard pet policies are in the works

After a spate of issues involving animals flying in both the cargo and cabin areas of planes, airlines have been revising their policies and procedures regarding pet travel. Efforts are also being made to not only clarify the difference between service and emotional support animals, but also to set better guidelines for emotional support animals as it applies to air travel. 

United, which had a string of unfortunate issues with pets flying in its cargo holds, temporarily suspended its pet shipping program so it could overhaul its procedures. Under the newly announced program, United will only transport certain breeds of cats and dogs in its cargo compartment. More than 25 short-nosed breeds will be banned from the cargo hold because they are known to be more prone to respiratory problems and thus are also more vulnerable to changes in air quality and temperature in the cargo hold of a plane. 

Further, United said it will no longer accept reservations to ship any animals to or from airports in Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Phoenix and Tucson between May 1 and September 30 because of frequent occurrences of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees during that time period. United is also limiting the number of connecting cities a shipped pet may be routed through. United will begin accepting reservations for pets as cargo on June 18 for travel beginning on July 9 if traveling with their owner or guardian. Reservations for pets traveling alone will commence on July 16 for travel starting July 30.

Meanwhile, as the number of issues with animals traveling in the aircraft cabin is on the rise, airlines and regulators are taking notice. Airlines including United, Delta and Alaska Airlines have already tightened their policies for transporting support animals. Now the federal Department of transportation is investigating the matter and plans to solicit public comment on the “appropriate definition” of service animals. The Americans with Disabilities Act currently defines service animals as either dogs or miniature horses that are specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals provide comfort and companionship but require no special training.  Lawmakers are thus looking at trying to establish a standard of behavior training required for emotional support animals along with ways to curb abuses as some passengers are trying to pass off their pets as support or service animals, allowing them to remain in the aircraft cabin.

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