Pigs will soon fly under updated rules being considered by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. The proposed guidelines would force airlines to allow service animals like pot-bellied pigs, miniature horses and monkeys to accompany their owners inside the cabins of airplanes.
The guidelines are posted in a lengthy document published last week on the Federal Register The proposed rule change is titled, “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel: Draft Technical Assistance Manual.”
“The purpose of this manual is to comply with a statutory requirement and help airlines comply with our rules protecting the rights of passengers with disabilities, as well as to provide additional information to air travelers with disabilities about their rights,” a DOT spokesman told Fox News Radio.
The DOT said the revisions do not “add any new requirements to the updated rules that went into effect in 2009, but rather updates an old manual to cover the new rules.”
The manual is more that 200 pages — but the section getting the most attention deals with allowing service animals like pigs and miniature horses on board jetliners. CNSNews.com was the first to report on the changes.
“You must permit a service animal used by a passenger with a disability to accompany the passenger on his or her flight,” the proposed regulation states. “In addition, you must permit a service animal to accompany a passenger with a disability to the passenger’s assigned seat and remain there if the animal does not obstruct the aisle or other areas that must remain unobstructed to facilitate an emergency evacuation.”
Should there not be space for the animal, the airline would be required to speak with other passengers who might be willing to either switch seats or share foot space with the creature.
Among the service animals allowed inside the cabin – dogs, miniature horses and monkeys. However, there are some creatures that airlines are allowed to reject – including ferrets, rodents, spiders, snakes and other reptiles.
The DOT spokesman told Fox News Radio that U.S. airlines will have to evaluate “unusual animals such as miniature horses on a case-by-case basis.”
The agency said a number of factors must be considered — from the size and weight of the horse to restrictions that foreign countries might have.
“If none of these are an issue, the animal may accompany the passenger in the cabin,” the spokesman said. “In most other cases, the animal should be carried in the cargo hold in accordance with company policy.”
The DOT regulation would allow airlines to exclude the animals if they are too large or pose a “direct threat to the health and safety of others.” Otherwise, they said airlines must permit the animals to travel on board the aircraft.
So what if a passenger objects to sitting next to a horse? The DOT said that is not a legitimate complaint.
“You must not deny a passenger with a disability transportation on the basis that the service animal may offend or annoy persons traveling on the aircraft,” the proposed regulation states.
They illustrated the rule change by telling the story of a passenger who shows up at the gate with a pot-bellied pig.
“Generally, you must permit a passenger with a disability to be accompanied by a service animal,” the rule states. If you determine that the pot-bellied pig is a service animal, you must permit the service animal to accompany the passenger to her seat provided the animal does not obstruct the aisle or present any safety issues and the animal is behaving appropriately in a public setting.”
The DOT does allow airlines to refuse services to unruly service animals or passengers who do not have the proper documentation for their service animal.
And what if a 300-pound airborne pig needs to the bathroom?
The DOT said passengers must provide documentation proving the animal “will not need to relieve itself on the flight or can do so in a way that will not create a health or sanitation issue on the flight.”
Airports and airlines would be required to provide facilities to accommodate animals on the ground.
“When establishing relief areas you should consider the size and surface material of the area, maintenance, and distance to relief area, which could vary, based on the size and configuration of the airport,” the proposed regulation states.
The airlines would also be required to provide a personal escort to the “animal relief area.”
The Association for Airline Passenger Rights said they fully support the DOT’s proposed rule change and said certified service animals should be granted full protection under the Air Carrier Access Act.
“Service animals are not always canine, despite the common perception to the contrary,” Executive Director Brandon Macsata told Fox News Radio. “Service animals that provide support for people with physical limitations are mostly canine; however, psychiatric and emotional support animals can be canine, or numerous other types of animals.”
But a number of passengers said they would not feel comfortable sitting next to a horse or a pig.
“We have definitely crossed over the absurd,” said James Tuttle.
“Having just sat through a crowded flight with crying children and a whining pocketbook dog, I would have to say no,” said airline passenger Jennifer Stone.
“I love animals, but not in the cabin of a plane,” added Lynn Teuber. “It’s bad enough inhaling some of the scents that already permeate the cabin. Adding animal scents will sicken people. Who thought up this insanity?”
Macsata said passengers who travel with a service animal would not be allowed to let their animals roam around the cabin.
“It isn’t like a pot-belly big would be running up and down the aisles,” he said. “DOT’s attempt to revise the regulations demonstrates their commitment and understanding to the unique needs of some passengers.”
Other airline passengers noted what they called the ludicrous nature of the rule – vowing not to travel in a “flying barn.”
“I can’t take an inhaler or a bottle of shampoo – but I can take my seeing-eye pig,” Laura Gadbery said with a hint of sarcasm. “Makes perfect sense.”
And some travelers wondered what would happen to individuals who suffer from allergies.
“My wife is severely allergic to any animals in the passenger cabin of an airplane,” said Bob van der Valk. “They are a direct threat to her and the health of other people with allergies. What are we going to do next? Prohibit people with allergies to board planes in order to allow animals on board?”
Americans are invited to submit their opinion about the rule change until October 3.
But Macsata said if airlines are going to benefit from public services, they will have to comply with the laws that govern air travel.
“They cannot be left to pick and choose which laws that (they) want to abide,” he said.