Under a proposed federal rule, airlines would no longer be required to accept emotional support animals and would exclude animals other than dogs as service animals.
The U.S. Department of Transportation is seeking public comment for the proposed policy. The public will have 60 days to submit its comments at Regulations.gov.
The department, in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, said it was not prohibiting airlines from allowing passengers to fly with emotional support animals. However, it would no longer require them to do so if the proposed rule becomes final.
The department's proposal would also allow airlines to limit service animals to two per passenger and require that they check in an hour earlier than other passengers.
The changes would be a departure from the previous DOT guidance issued in August. which said that airlines could not restrict passengers from traveling with emotional support animals, nor could they ban a specific breed or species of support animal.
Complaints from flight attendants and other passengers about the behavior of such animals on board prompted the department to review the policy.
Airlines have also questioned whether some passengers may be trying to pass off their pets as support animals – be they cats, rabbits or birds, among others – in order to avoid paying the associated fees.
"Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone," said Nick Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, an industry advocacy group.
However, the National Disability Rights Action Network said the proposed rule would make it harder for people with disabilities to travel. It said the department was "putting convenience for the airline industry ahead of the rights" of such travelers.
“We acknowledge that some people have misrepresented themselves and their pets as people with disabilities with service or emotional support animals. But it is rare," Curt Decker, the group's president, said in a statement. "These proposals are a vast overreaction to an uncommon problem."
The Department of Transportation regulates the transportation of service animals under the Air Carrier Access Act and solicited comments from the public in 2018 after disability advocates and airline industry groups raised concerns about regulations around the handling of service and support animals. That solicitation resulted in nearly 4,500 comments.
Airlines have been tightening their policies in the wake of an increasing number of incidents involving animals in the and an overall increase in the number of pets brought on board. Passengers have tried to bring on a range of emotional support animals, including a peacock and a squirrel.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Emotional support animals: New DOT rule would let airlines refuse them