U.S. Will Only Allow Dogs To Travel As Service Animals On Airplanes

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A new rule from the U.S. Department of Transportation means that airlines no longer have to treat emotional support animals as service animals. The ruling states that airlines are not required to recognize emotional support animals as a service animal and instead, may treat emotional support animals as pets. Airlines now may limit service animal designation to dogs only, with the final ruling defined in Traveling by Air With Service Animals giving dogs only service animal status. A service animal is specifically defined as “a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

Emotional support animals are prescribed by mental health professionals to provide their owners with comfort and support, but unlike service animals, they are not required to have training in specific tasks. For many years, the airlines have been asking the Department of Transportation to regulate this issue as many carriers were concerned about ‘pets’ being fraudulently passed off as emotional animals.

The lack of definition of ‘service animal’ has led to some unusual species of animals being deemed ’emotional support’ and many carriers have had had to deal with requests to transport animals like peacocks onboard an aircraft as an emotional support animal. Passengers have also had pigs fly as emotional support, and attempted to have mini-horses fly as well.

Airlines for America is a trade group for the airlines and has applauded the ruling. Saying that airlines are committed to promoting acessibility for passengers with disabilities, the rule will protect traveling public and airline crew from untrained animals in cabins. It will also help improve accessibility for passengers that do need to travel with trained service dogs.

Prior regulations mean that a person traveling with an emotional support animal needed to present a letter to the airline from a licensed health professional. CertaPet is one of a handful of service providers that screen and offer letters for emotional support animals. They believe the ruling does a disservice to those who face mental health challenges and need emotional support from their animals. They believe that clear guidelines for vetting and certification companies would have been better served.

The rule will go into effect 30 days after it’s published in the Federal Register, though no publication date has been set yet. After that, people traveling with emotional support animals will need to pay for their pet to travel as a pet, and may be denied travel, though that’s dependent upon each airline.