No more emotional support animals on planes; DOT closes major loophole

Dec 2, 2020

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The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced a major revision to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) with specific updates to the Traveling by Air with Service Animals section. In it, the agency makes a final ruling on emotional support animals. When the final ruling goes into effect, 30 days after the publication date in the Federal Register, emotional support animals will no longer be considered service animals.

A man walks with his service dog in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)


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This news will be celebrated by every traveler or airline crew member that has witnessed a bad-behaving animal on an aircraft that clearly hasn’t been trained as a service animal but is masquerading as one at the behest of its owner. TPG has talked about the issue before as many travelers claimed any pet as an emotional support animal so they could fly.

The DOT said that “This final rule is intended to ensure that our air transportation system is safe for the traveling public and accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

Related: Complete guide to traveling with pets

To that end, going forward, a “service animal” is defined as one that is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” The animal may assist with tasks related to physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disabilities. The ruling specifies that airlines must treat psychiatric service animals the same as any other service animal, such as one that assists an individual with a sight impairment.

This change lets airlines reclassify emotional support animals as pets instead of service animals. They may still fly based on the airline’s guidelines for pet travel.

Related: Guide to flying with Emotional Support Animals

Additionally, passengers flying with a service animal will now be required to fill out a form, developed by the DOT, and submit it to the airline. The information provided will confirm the animal’s service training, good behavior and good health. If your flight is eight hours or more, the passenger must also attest that the service animal either won’t relieve itself during the flight or will do so in a “sanitary manner.”

If you make your flight reservations in advance, your form is due to the airline within 48 hours of departure. For last-minute reservations, you can provide your form at the departure gate. Ask for the U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Air Transportation Form.

Related: The Feds are going to change the ESA rules and I’m glad

Note that according to the new ruling, a carrier may limit service animals to dogs. And, carriers are permitted to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger to two. Furthermore, carriers can require that your service animal either fits on your lap or at your foot space on the aircraft.

Featured image by Javier Brosch/Shutterstock

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