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New Rules Announced for Flying with Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s new rules will affect just about anyone flying with an animal in the cabin.

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When it comes to air travel, the U.S. Department of Transportation has ruled that only dogs qualify as service animals and that emotional support animals of any kind do not qualify as service animals. These new rules are part of a revision to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation on the transportation of service animals by air, announced Wednesday.

In a release, the department said, “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.”

The release also included highlights from the 122-page final rule document. The final rule:

  • Defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;
  • No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
  • Requires airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals;
  • Allows airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s health, behavior and training, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
  • Allows airlines to require individuals traveling with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if the passenger’s reservation was made prior to that time;
  • Prohibits airlines from requiring passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to physically check-in at the airport instead of using the online check-in process;
  • Allows airlines to require a person with a disability seeking to travel with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel;
  • Allows airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals;
  • Allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
  • Allows airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times in the airport and on the aircraft;
  • Continues to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
  • Continues to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.

The final rule will be effective 30 days after date of publication in the Federal Register.

Bottom line: Passengers with service animals will now need to fill out forms prior travel. Passengers with emotional support animals must now fly them as pets and follow the airline’s applicable rules, including paying a pet transportation fee.

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Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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