Pigs & peacocks are pets, not service or emotional support animals, says DOT. Only trained dogs fly free.

Popeyes at PHL Airport launched this ‘Emotional Support Chicken” in 2018.

It’s been a while since we had a story about someone trying to pass off what is clearly a pet as an emotional support animal so that the pet will fly for free.

Airlines tightened their policies on this after things got out of hand with passengers passing off badly behaved, dangerous, and obviously untrained animals as emotional support animals.

Now, after a long wait and much debate, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued its final ruling on the matter.

Basically, the DOT definition of a service animal is now aligned with the Americans With Disabilities Act’s definition.

Here are some of the key takeaways to know:

*The rules now define a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type “that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

*Airlines may now categorize emotional support animals as pets rather than service animals and limit a passenger to only two service animals.

*Airlines may require passengers traveling with a service dog to fill out a DOT-approved form attesting to the animal’s training and to vouch for the dog’s good health. On flights eight hours or longer owners must promise that their service dog won’t have to relieve itself or can do so in a sanitary manner.

You can read the other details of this final ruling here.

Who likes the rule? Who hates it?

Companies that issue emotional support animal certificates over the internet for a fee are, understandably, not happy with the ruling. Nor are travelers who have been flying their pets uncrated in the airline cabins for free with these fake papers.

But organizations that train services dogs and groups that represent and serve travelers with disabilities welcome today’s announcement.

“People with disabilities depend on their service dogs to live independently,” says Sheri Soltes, vice-chair of Assistance Dogs International NA. “With the new DOT rules, airline passengers with disabilities who use trained service dogs can travel safely without the risk of themselves or their dogs being attacked by out of control animals.” 

Christine Benninger, President and CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind, says “This much-needed ruling acknowledges the negative effects fraudulent service animals have had on legitimate service animals and their handlers, which include safety, health, risks of attacks from untrained animals, and the erosion of the positive public image of a formally trained service dog.”

She notes, though, that there are challenges ahead. “The ruling requires handlers to provide more pre-boarding paperwork and validation, and the addition of extra steps for those traveling with a disability is not equal access.”

And Open Doors Organization (ODO) says:

By aligning the definition of a service animal with that of the Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the DOT has ensured that untrained animals, classified as emotional support animals, are no longer traveling uncrated in aircraft cabins, making air travel safer for everyone and eliminating the stigma for legitimate service animals.

By defining a service animal as a dog that is trained to perform a task or function to assist a person with a disability, and including psychiatric service animals, the air travel experience is safer for everyone and legitimate service animals and their handlers will be treated with the respect they deserve.

What do you think?

Travel Tidbits: Free Wi-Fi & More Fees

There’s good news and bad news for travelers this week.
Alaska Electronics

In Japan, rules have been eased so that airlines may allow passengers to use their personal electronic gadgets from gate to gate.

Free, unlimited Wi-Fi was introduced last week at Amsterdam’s Schiphol.

But as of today Allegiant Air follows the lead of Spirit Airlines in adding a fee to have an agent print out a boarding pass for you.

Here’s a link to my story about that Allegiant fee on USA TODAY, where I’m filling in on the Today in the Sky blog.


Fines set for having pot at Colorado airports

den sign

While it is now legal to possess and purchase marijuana in Colorado, anyone who brings pot to either of the state’s two busiest airports – Denver International and Colorado Springs – now risks the chance of being fined.

On Wednesday, Denver International Airport held a public hearing to formalize a policy it rolled out earlier in the month prohibiting the possession, use and consumption of marijuana for everyone – travelers, meters and greeters and workers – on airport property.

At the same time, DIA officials announced a set of “administrative citations,” or fines that would be issued as part of that policy: $150 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and up to $999 for a third offense and beyond.

“This is really a last resort for us though,” said DIA spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. “Our primary goal is for people to comply with federal law,” which states that it is illegal to bring marijuana past security or transport it across state lines. See DIA’s new signage below, and then read on.

Stegman said that, as at other airports, if a TSA officer discovers marijuana, local law enforcement is called. “Law enforcement would look at the circumstances and determine what to do—depending upon intent, age, quantity, etc.”

If someone over age 21 is found at DIA airport with a small amount of pot, they’d likely be asked to put it in their vehicle, have someone take it away from the airport or asked to throw it away in a checkpoint trash receptacle. (DIA’s receptacles have lids with small holes, so Stegman isn’t worried about discarded marijuana being retrieved by others.) Those who decline these options would be asked to leave the airport and, before a citation would be given “other options would be explored,” said Stegman.

Signs outlining the rules will be posted at Denver International Airport within seven days, at which time airport and local authorities will begin enforcing the policy.

Starting Friday, January 10, pot is also prohibited throughout Colorado Springs Airport. According to a report in The Gazette, officials have warned the public that possession of pot at the airport could be punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 – and jail time.

Those found with marijuana at the Colorado Springs Airport will have the option to give it up voluntarily, without penalty, by putting it in their cars, giving it to someone to take away from the airport or depositing it in an “amnesty box” to be destroyed.

(My story about pot fine at Colorado Airports first appeared on the Runway Girl Network)

Don’t leave a dead relative at the airport

Each Friday on’s Overhead Bin, I tackle a reader’s travel-related question. This week’s topic was flying with cremated remains.

Dottie Flanagan, an accounting manager from Falmouth, Mass., will be flying to Knoxville, Tenn., in a few months to bury her mother’s cremated remains.

Flanagan isn’t sure yet which airline she’ll fly on or whether she’ll fly out of the airport in Boston or Providence, R.I., but she wrote to Overhead Bin to ask if there might be a problem taking the urn along as a carry-on item.

“The funeral parlor gave me the urn wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a bag with handles,” said Flanagan. “It is ceramic with pink roses on it, shaped like a ginger gar and about 11 inches high. The lid is glued to the bottom and it cannot be opened. I’m sure I could obtain a letter from the funeral home certifying what was in the container if that would help.”

To help Flanagan with this task, I first reviewed the “Transporting the deceased” section of Transportation Security Administration website. There we learned that while passengers are allowed to carry a crematory container as carry-on luggage, the container must still pass through the X-ray machine. According to the TSA, “If the container is made of a material that generates an opaque image and prevents the Transportation Security Officer from clearly being able to see what is inside, then the container cannot be allowed through the security checkpoint.”

Paperwork from a funeral home about the contents of a container will not exclude it from screening and the TSA states that “out of respect … under no circumstances will an officer open the container even if the passenger requests this be done.”

As a precaution, TSA urges travelers to get a crematory container made of wood or plastic that can be successfully X-rayed. That still left me wondering about Flanagan’s ceramic container and we asked TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez to take a look at a jar similar to the one Flanagan will be carrying.

“Most urns will go through the X-ray machine with no problem,” said Melendez, “and this looks like porcelain, and should be fine. The problems we have are with containers made of lead that are difficult to see through, which is why we ask people to travel with the simplest container possible.”

If an urn is turned away from the security checkpoint, Melendez points out that the TSA does permit urns to be screened and placed in checked luggage. But some airlines specifically prohibit crematory containers from checked baggage.

The bottom line? For the final word on transporting cremated remains to their final resting spot, check with your carrier.

(Photo courtesy Flickr Commons.)

Peanuts on planes: got a problem with that?

Peanuts on a plane.

For a lot of people, that’s a more frightening scenario than snakes on a plane.

And a lot more likely.

And as I wrote in my column this week – Passengers peeved about peanuts on airplanes – a lot of travelers think the best way to enhance airline passenger protections is to ban peanuts on planes.


Through September 23rd, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is taking public comment on a wide range of issues affecting airline passengers. Everything from peanuts on planes to involuntary bumping policies to surprise baggage fees.

Of the nearly 1,300 public comments submitted so far, the majority are focused on peanut allergies.

One problem though.

Technically, DOT doesn’t have the authority to change in-flight peanut policies. That’s because an appropriations law from 2000 prohibits the agency from passing peanut rules until a scientific study proves a rule change will actually benefit airline passengers with allergies. And no such study has been completed or commissioned.

Still, the agency is trying to gauge public opinion on ways to handle in-flight peanuts.

“We haven’t said we won’t do anything,” said DOT spokesperson Bill Mosely. “We haven’t ruled anything in or out. So we still do want to hear public comments about peanuts. We plan to read and review them all.”

The problem with flying peanuts

Peanut allergies among children have tripled between 1997 and 2008, and peanut allergies, tree-nut allergies, or both, are reported by 1 percent of the U.S. population, or about 3 million people, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), a group that supports discontinuing serving peanuts on planes.

The fear of having a severe reaction from exposure to peanuts while locked inside an airplane keeps some allergy sufferers grounded. Under DOT’s rules, passengers with severe peanut allergies have a qualifying disability covered by the Air Carrier Access Act, which prohibits discrimination by U.S. and foreign carriers against individuals with disabilities.

As far back as 1988, DOT advised airlines to make reasonable accommodations for passengers disabled by their peanut allergies. Most airlines voluntarily comply, but no formal rules have been put in place.

Now, DOT is asking the public to comment on three alternatives to accommodate peanut-allergy sufferers on airplanes:

  • Ban the serving of peanuts and all peanut products on all flights;
  • Ban the serving of peanuts and all peanut products on all flights where a passenger with a peanut allergy requests it in advance, or;
  • Require airlines to establish a peanut-free buffer zone for passengers with severe peanut allergies.

DOT is also asking the public to comment on how peanuts and peanut products carried on board by passengers should be handled.

Peanut protections for airline passengers

If you’ve got a problem with peanuts, here’s what you need to know:

AirTran, Alaska/Horizon, American, Continental, JetBlue and United are among the major domestic airlines that do not serve peanuts. However, most airlines also post notices saying they can’t promise that some items served on board won’t contain nut products or that other passengers won’t bring their own nut products on board.

Two domestic airlines continue to ladle out legumes.

In 2009, both Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines served about 92 million bags of peanuts. “That does sound like a lot of nuts,” said Patrick Archer, president of the American Peanut Council, “But the airline portion of the overall U.S. peanut business is really very small.”

If alerted, Delta Airlines will accommodate a passenger with a peanut allergy by creating a peanut-free buffer zone for three rows in front of and three rows behind their seat. The airline’s website also notes that when advised that a passenger with peanut allergies is flying, “Gate agents will be notified in case you’d like to pre-board and cleanse the immediate seating area.”

And while Southwest Airlines can’t guarantee a nut-free airplane, it will suspend peanut service on an entire flight if a passenger with an allergy requests it. See Southwest’s peanut dust allergy page for more information.

Want to share your thoughts about peanuts-on-planes? You can leave a comment below.

You can also file comments for the DOT to read (through September 23, 2010) here.