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New rule would limit emotional support animals on planes

  • TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
                                Airlines would no longer be required to consider emotional support animals as service animals under new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

    TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

    Airlines would no longer be required to consider emotional support animals as service animals under new rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Roosters have boarded airplanes. So have turkeys, ducks and monkeys — all in the name of service. These animals allegedly helped their owners stay calm. Never mind that they may have had the opposite effect on nearby passengers.

The “emotional support” designation also helped owners save money — calming, indeed, when airlines charge $125 one way to convey a pet in a carrier under the seat. A friend once told me that she easily obtained a letter from a psychologist so she could fly her tiny dog around the country free of charge.

The mile-high menagerie may be coming to an end. The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a new rule recently that would let airlines ban untrained emotional support animals — an entirely different breed, so to speak, from the fully trained service and guide dogs that help the likes of veterans with PTSD and the visually impaired.

Already, airlines have banned certain animals. Alaska Airlines, for instance, prohibits rodents, ferrets and snakes. Delta’s list is longer and includes birds, all amphibians and animals with tusks, horns or hoofs, such as goats.

People with legitimate need of a support dog — a veteran, the mother of an autistic child — have told me that the surplus of support animals makes their air travel uncomfortable, as fellow flyers look askance at their dogs. Flyers have been bitten by unrestrained dogs in airports and on planes. Online sites spit out letters qualifying pets as emotional support animals for a fee. It’s time to take a look at the issue.

The flying zoo started in 2003, when the Department of Transportation expanded the definition of service animal to include any that lends emotional support. That followed a 1986 law requiring U.S. airlines to permit service animals.

The public has through July 9 to comment on the proposed rule that would limit the flying privilege of service animals to only those that are fully trained. Share your views at regulations.gov (input docket number DOT-OST- 2018-0068). Or send a comment by mail to Docket Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 SE. New Jersey Ave., West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington DC 20590-0001.

Whether a growl or a purr, let your voice be heard.

AAA overhauls Diamond Program

AAA announced it has overhauled its highly acclaimed AAA Diamond Program by replacing ratings with designations.

For hotels and restaurants seeking the prestigious Diamond designation, the properties will need to be analyzed by professionally trained inspectors using member-driven criteria. The updated system eliminates unverified and biased ratings.

One and Two Diamond hotels and restaurants will transition to the Approved designation as part of the new system, and Three, Four and Five Diamond establishments will retain their designations.

AAA revealed the 2020 inspections would be the determining factor for all properties’ future designation.

“We’ve transformed the AAA Diamond Program to help travelers better understand the overall quality, range of facilities and level of services offered by a property,” AAA Travel executive director Stacey Barber said in a statement. “Unlike ratings from unknown users sharing their opinions, the Diamond designations are provided by experienced professionals using consistent guidelines to tell travelers what a property offers.”

As part of the overhauled Diamond Program, AAA has removed outdated criteria in favor of factors that more directly relate to guest comfort, design and layout. The program consists of nearly 60,000 properties in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, including almost 27,000 hotels and more than 30,000 restaurants.

Last year, AAA Travel revealed the results of a study showing that around 25% of Americans plan to take an international vacation over the next 18 months.

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