0 min left

A Crackdown on Emotional Support Animals Is Coming

Federal regulators are poised to tighten the regulations that apply to so-called emotional support companions on commercial flights. Airlines, consumer advocates and industry lobbyists have complained for years that current DOT rules protect pet owners at the expense of the wider flying public, but now it appears the agency will likely adopt the stricter Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of service animals.

Airplane cabins could soon become decidedly less animal-friendly. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) appears likely to approve new rules to drastically limit the situations in which airlines will be required to accommodate emotional support animals (ESA). The agency recently relaxed some requirements, in effect allowing carriers to ban animals that are “too large, too heavy, or younger than four months old.” Following a public comment period, rule makers are widely expected to adopt an official definition for service animals more closely resembling the standards as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“In 2018, over a million passengers on U.S. airlines traveled with ESAs in the cabin, and as a result, both airports and airlines have seen a sharp increase in incidents caused by ESAs,” airline industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A) wrote commending the DOT’s recent moves in a letter signed by 80 airline industry and service animal advocacy groups. “These incidents have ranged from mauling and biting to urinating and defecating—all unacceptable behaviors on an airplane. This misbehavior not only threatens the health and safety of our passengers and crew but also passengers with disabilities traveling with legitimate service animals. The transport of untrained animals through busy airports and fully booked aircraft may also put undue stress on the animals themselves. Online vendors have been all too willing to sell dubious credentials to passengers who are not disabled, helping spur the growth of fraudulent ESAs.”

Major airlines have taken steps in recent months to place greater restrictions on emotional support animals, including limiting the size, age and species of the animals, as well as requiring documentation of training and medical need. Carriers say, however, that until now federal officials have been slow to clarify exactly how much leeway airlines have in setting their own rules regarding companion animals.

According to a report this week in Quartz, the DOT plan to adopt the stricter ADA definition of a service animal will provide additional cover for airlines who deny oftentimes dubious claims that passengers’ pets are, in fact, legally protected emotional support animals. It’s believed that the proposed change to the interpretation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) would require executive branch blessing before being instituted.

“To be clear, we are not suggesting that DOT change the existing requirements for airlines to accommodate passengers with a disability and a trained service animal,” A4A explained. “The DOT should protect the legitimate right of passengers with a disability to travel with a service animal and adopt the definition of service animal from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We thank DOT for the important work undertaken on this critical issue, recognizing that additional changes are needed to Section 382.117, and look forward to the eventual rule changes that will ensure a safer and healthier travel experience for all.”

[Featured Image: Flickr/T Sheppard]

Comments are Closed.
FlyerBurger January 25, 2021

Its hilarious how literally NONE of you are capable of thinking past surface level on this issue. Actually ONE person pointed out something obvious - how many dogs fit UNDER the seat in front of you, let alone in a fricken crate? How about those of us with snub nose breed dogs? Hmmm? Anyone out there got a brain perhaps? You know the millions of Frenchies? Pugs? English Bulldogs? The only reason we had to get emotional support certification in the first place is because they were NOT ALLOWED to fly with other animals in baggage area. Nobody had enough brains to realize this left us with zero options. Whats that? People "JUST want to bring their dog with them" ? Really. Fascinating. How about me? I have to relocate to, and live in Puerto Rico multiple times per year for extended periods. I am forced to bring my English Bulldog with me. Now what am I supposed to do? He's not allowed below. He's not the size of my shoe, so he can't fit under my seat. But yeah - be mindless tools and rant about how this is awesome, without actually thinking about it deeper than surface level.

MiscMel70 November 22, 2019

Don't the airlines charge to bring a small pet? Why? If the pet can fit, in a carrier and under the seat in front of you, it should be counted as one of your personal items and allowed with no extra charge. Charging for this by airlines already milking every dime out of us makes people lie. Having said that, ESA's should be limited to certain species. Larger animals should be placed in cargo with congress mandating that airlines retrofit planes to provide a space that is pressurized appropriately (and monitored), warm, and not inclined to freak an animal out. I haven't had a pet since I was a child but I know they are amazing sentient beings who are family to people who own them. No one wants to give their pets to the airlines who have been proven to not treat them well. I won't go as far as to say "if people can't be without their ESA for x amount of time then don't travel". I don't go a day without my anti anxiety meds so who am I to judge. To be honest, if a cute puppy could replace meds AND I had the time to care for one, I would choose a doggo in a flash.

Jose Holmes October 22, 2019

It was my first time traveling with my pet cat in delta airlines after getting my ESA letter from https://www.fastesaletter.com/.There was another person with his emotional support dog in the cabin and he has literally no control over his pet dog. The dog tried to attack my cat, and I got scratches on my hand. The airline staff asked tried to verify the ESA letter of that person, but he had a fake ESA letter and the letter could not be verified. So, the airlines had to deboard the person along with his pet. Thankfully my ESA letter was legit and was verified by my therapist. I don't understand why people take their pets to airlines when they have no control over them.

September 19, 2019

Wife and I proudly pay the fee to fly with our non-service animal kept in the case as required and we follow all rules both written and as instructed by Flight Crew. I don't understand why people think it is okay to fake having a service animal to dodge a small fee. It should be considered fraud (fake service animal) and theft of services from the airline.

IanFromHKG September 19, 2019

PS: BC Shelby asked "if they’d let me board with my “emotional support ball python”". Not sure about that, but snakes can be service animals too! I read of one case where a boa constrictor would squeeze its owner to warn of an impending seizure...