Emotional support animals now restricted to only dogs

Addressing concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, flight attendants, airports and other aviation transportation stakeholders and the public, the U.S. Department of Transportation has revised what kind of animals can travel on planes.

The rule changes the definition of support anima to only include canines. That means emotional support ducks, peacocks, and other animals will no longer be allowed to fly with their owners.

The DOT received more than 15,000 comments on the notice of the planned changes.

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 change was prompted by debate among various stakeholders including airlines, people with disabilities who rely on service animals and passenger rights groups.

Most recently, transportation regulators had said that dogs, cats and miniature horses should be prioritized as service animals by airlines. But passengers have tried to travel with monkeys, birds and rabbits, falcons and ducks.

Federal transportation officials said Wednesday that disruptions caused by taking unusual species aboard airlines had “eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals” and that there were increasing cases of travellers “fraudulently representing their pets as service animals.”

The new rules require airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals. The owners of those service animals must provide documentation developed by the Transportation Department attesting to the animal’s health, behaviour and training.

Passengers traveling with service animals will no longer be required to physically check in at the airport instead of online.

The new rules stopped short of banning emotional support animals outright, but proponents said that airlines would no longer have to accommodate non-service animals in the cabin.

Some airlines, including Delta and Southwest, said they were reviewing their policies on taking animals on flights. And some airlines allow passengers to take small pets in the cabin for a fee.

The lobbying group Airlines for America, which includes all of the major U.S. carriers, welcomed the changes.

“The Department of Transportation’s final rule will protect the traveling public and airline crew members from untrained animals in the cabin, as well as improve air travel accessibility for passengers with disabilities that travel with trained service dogs,” the group’s president, Nicholas E. Calio, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Peacocks will no longer fly (in planes)

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