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Transportation Regulation Sweep Grounds Emotional Support Animals

In a continued round of regulations getting approved before the White House changes in January 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation is amending how animals are viewed under the Air Carrier Access Act. Under the change, only specially-trained dogs will be allowed to board as service animals.

The days of flying with emotional support animals could be over, as the U.S. Department of Transportation continues to issue rules ahead of the administration change. In their most recent ruling, the department amended the Air Carrier Access Act to narrow “service animals” to only trained dogs.

New Rule Requires Documentation on Service Dogs Prior to Travel

Under the new rules, the sole definition of “service animal” is: “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” Any other animal that tries to fly in the main cabin as an “emotional support animal” – including peacocks and pigs – can be turned away because they will no longer be considered “service animals.” Airlines will also have the right to refuse any service dog displaying aggressive behavior or is deemed to be a “health or safety threat” to others.

In addition, flyers may be asked to provide documentation on their service companions. Airlines can now require travelers to fill out a form created by DOT attesting to the animal’s health, behavior, training and ability to not make a mess on the aircraft. Carriers may require flyers to turn in forms 48 hours prior to departure if the reservation was made before that time. If reservations were made less than 48 hours ahead of the flight, the flyer can present paperwork at the gate. The service animal must fit in the flyer’s foot space aboard aircraft, and must be leashed at all times.

“The Department received more than 15,000 comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking,” the department wrote in a press release. “The final rule announced today addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.”

Disabled flyers traveling with a service animal will also be allowed to check in online. Under the rules, airlines cannot force a disabled person to check-in at the airport if they are traveling with a service dog. Flyers will be limited to two service animals, and airlines cannot discriminate based on breed.

Service Animal Regulation Becomes Third Rule In Five Days

The move to limit service animals is the third finalized rule affecting airlines by outgoing members of the Trump administration. On Nov. 27, 2020, the DOT created a rule that codifies definitions of “unfair” and “deceptive” airline practices which potentially skews in the carriers’ favor. On the same day, the Federal Communications Commission ended proceedings on allowing cell phone calls on flights.

Feature image courtesy: Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

PointsPanda December 31, 2020

I agree @jamesteroh I have to pay $400 roundtrip to fly my small dog from Cancun to Atlanta, Delta charges a jaw dropping $200 each way, the cost to the airline is at most a tenth of that, or really no cost at all. A cost to check a bag in cargo I understand the airline carries cost, but in the cabin? Never understood why they charge so much or anything at all. Infants under 2 dont pay since they dont take a seat, small dogs dont take a seat either .... I'm glad the ESA "loophole" is going away while all of the rest of us played by the rules, but it would nice if the airlines would drop the fee to something more reasonable for small pets that are in cabin.

simpleflyer December 30, 2020

I doubt you can regulate a pet fee, as a pet is not like a wheelchair or other device essential to transport of a human. And horses, which I suspect cost quite a bit to fly as cargo, can hardly be charged the same as a chihuahua on the basis that they could be argued to be 'pets' I am glad to hear of this change on ESA, even though in the best of all possible worlds, I hold that every flight would have a specially trained labrador to function as a flight attendant. Job would be solely to wag tail and cheer everyone up. ;)

KenTarmac December 12, 2020

About time!

jamesteroh December 11, 2020

Good move, but I wish airlines would be regulated as to how much they can charge for a pet fee. People might not abuse the emotional animal policy so much if airlines didn't charge such an absurd fee.

EPtraveler December 10, 2020

Thank God! I'm with all of you....I was on a JFK-SFO flight with 5 dogs. Not safe in an emergency.