Two passengers and their emotional support French bulldogs were escorted off a Norwegian Air flight from London to Austin, Texas, when their dogs started showing signs of distress on board.
Both Norwegian Air and Gatwick Airport confirmed the incident in statements to USA TODAY.
"Flight DI7181 from Gatwick to Austin had not yet departed when the captain took the decision to offload emotional support dogs and their two owners at the gate due to the dogs showing signs of distress in the cabin," Anders Lindström, a spokesperson for Norwegian Air, told USA TODAY in a statement, adding, "The safety and security of our passengers and crew is always our number one priority."
Lindström did not elaborate on the exact nature of the dogs' discomfort. But due to their short muzzles, French bulldogs are prone to Brachycephalic Airway Obstruction Syndrome, which can make it difficult for them to breathe in high temperatures and at high altitude.
For this reason, some airlines, including Delta, American and United, ban bulldogs and many other snub-nose breeds from flying in the cargo hold. And though the University of Georgia mascot, Uga the bulldog, flies private, new dogs undergo a medical procedure to widen their air passages before traveling to away games.
Dogs are the only emotional support animals accepted on Norwegian Air and they are only allowed in the cabin on direct flights to and from the U.S., According to the carrier's website. Qualified dogs must also have specific training and certification from an accredited assistance dog organization.
Per a statement from Gatwick, the support dogs met proper requirements when going through airport security and boarding. This included passports and paperwork.
In August, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued clarifying guidance to airlines on how to handle service animals and the growing issue of emotional support animals.
Among the major takeaways from the new policy regarding to emotional support animals:
- Airlines cannot ban a specific breed or species of support animal, though they have some latitude to deny specific animals if they believe the animal could pose a threat. "Priority will be placed on ensuring that the most commonly recognized service animals (dogs, cats and miniature horses) are accepted for transport."
- Airlines can require animal owners to provide documentation related to the animal's vaccination, training or behavior to determine whether an animal poses a threat to the health or safety of others. They can also require documentation for flights over eight hours related to an animal's bathroom habits but cannot have outright bans on animals on long flights.
- Airlines can require animals within the cabin to be tethered.
- Airlines can't require advance notice for those traveling with traditional service animals.
- Airlines can require lobby check-in for emotional support animals.
- Airlines can ask questions to determine a passenger's need for the animal, but must accept a medical form or letter that meets DOT's criteria as medical documentation of their need.
- Airlines can't restrict passengers from traveling with more than one emotional support animal and also can't limit the total number of animals on any flight.
- Airlines can deny animals that are too large or too heavy to be in the cabin and can prohibit animals younger than four months.
The new guidance on species limitations, documentation requirements, containment, check-in and advance notice came just weeks after an American Airlines flight attendant was bitten by an emotional support dog on a flight from Dallas to North Carolina, which prompted union calls to further tighten rules on in-flight animals.
Contributing: Julia Thompson, Dawn Gilbertson
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Emotional support dogs, passengers booted off Norwegian flight