DOT Rule: Airlines Can Ban Emotional Support Animals

DOT Rule: Airlines Can Ban Emotional Support Animals

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Good News for Those Tired of Noah's Ark in the Sky: the New DOT Rule No Longer Considers Emotional Support Animals to be Service Animals, which lays the groundwork for airlines to ban emotional support animals from the cabin.

As most flyers know, there's been a substantial increase of animals in the cabin over the past few years, at least up until the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. flyers realized how easy it was to pass off a pet as an emotional support animal and bring Fido for free in the cabin, as opposed to paying to transport a pet in the hold, to the consternation of many fellow passengers and flight attendants.

The new Department of Transportation Rule will go into effect 30 days after being published in the Federal Register, although the publication date hasn't been announced yet. Here are highlights of the new rule:

  • Defines a service animal as a dog (no other animal, such as a miniature horse will be permitted, even if trained) 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
  • Mandates airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals (this is critical for veterans and others with a genuine psychiatric disability)
  • Permits airlines to require DOT forms that attest 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
  • Permits airlines to require a service animal to fit in its handler’s foot space on the aircraft
  • Permits airlines to require that service animals be harnessed or leashed at all times in the airport and on the airplane (no more lap dogs or purse dogs)
  • Continues to permit airlines to refuse to transport service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others

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Bottom line: DOT's final rule regards “emotional support animals” as the pets they are, while protecting true service animals used by passengers with disabilities, which in our view is as it should be. There were cases of untrained emotional support animals biting or barking at other passengers, crew, or legitimate service animals, which simply shouldn't be permitted.

Those whose lives legitimately depends on their trained service animals should be able to travel without worrying about their own animal's safety and efficacy being compromised by untrained emotional support animals, and passengers who have severe pet allergies shouldn't have to worry about the ever increasing number of animals on board, simply because some fellow passengers don't want to pay pet fees to transport their pet in the hold.

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