The U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) issued a final rule on December 2 covering animals on airlines. It decided that only Guide dogs can fly as service animals, and companions that passengers use for emotional support don’t count.
The rule under the Air Carrier Access Act aims to settle years of tension between airlines and passengers who bring animals on board for free by saying they need them for emotional help. Under a longstanding department policy, all the passengers needed was a note from a health professional.
By aligning the definition of a service animal with that of the Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the DOT has ensured that untrained animals, classified as emotional support animals, are no longer traveling uncrated in aircraft cabins, making air travel safer for everyone and eliminating the stigma for legitimate service animals.
While a variety of additional notifications and documentation options for emotional support animals have been allowed in the past few years, these requirements have had no effect on the growth of emotional support animals traveling on airplanes. In fact, these requirements have spawned a cottage industry where medical professionals are selling forms to allow these untrained animals to fly as emotional support animals. By defining a service animal as a trained dog to perform a task or function to assist a person with a disability, including psychiatric service animals, the air travel experience is safer for everyone, and legitimate service animals and their handlers will be treated with respect they deserve.
The final rule will be effective 30 days after date of publication in the Federal Register.