The US Transportation Department on Wednesday proposed giving airlines the power to bar emotional support animals from cabins and limit the definition of a service animal to a trained dog.
The proposed new rules are aimed at preventing passengers from falsely claiming their pets are service animals aboard US airline flights.
Airlines have long complained passengers have been able to exploit the designation by bringing their pets and other exotic creatures on board with limited oversight and without adequate training.
Federal law allows passengers with disabilities to travel with service animals.
US airlines including Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines have moved to limit emotional support animals in cabins to largely dogs and cats after a growing number of passengers were bringing a wide variety of exotic pets such as monkeys, pigs and various birds that could pose a safety risk. Airlines in recent years reported a big jump in travellers bringing animals aboard.
A trade group representing major US airlines praised the proposal, saying it would ensure "only dogs trained to perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities are allowed onboard aircraft."
The department said the proposal "is intended to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system" and will be open for public comment.
It also wants comment on whether it should allow miniature horses to serve as service animals. The department is not proposing to allow airlines to bar service dogs on the basis of breed or type.
Spirit Airlines told regulators it lost "millions of dollars in pet carriage fees from passengers fraudulently claiming their 'house pets are service or support animals.'"
Delta noted in 2018 that some passengers "attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes" and spiders, while American Airlines in 2018 said it would not allow a wide variety of creatures on flights as support animals including goats, ferrets, hedgehogs, amphibians and reptiles.
The administration's proposal would consider "a psychiatric service animal" like any other service animal and require the same training and treatment as others.
Airlines could require passengers to submit a completed US Transportation form as a condition of transportation, which could potentially subject them to criminal or civil penalties if passengers made false statements.
Airlines would be able to require forms developed by the Transportation Department attesting to a service animal's good behaviour, certifying the service animal's good health, "and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal has the ability to either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner."