The US Department of Transportation published its final rule on Traveling by Air with Service Animals today, bringing an end to the Emotional Support Animal (ESA) era. Under the new guidelines only dogs may be designated as service animals and owners must attest that they are specially trained to provide services to the passenger, among other requirements.
The filing comes after two years of debate and nine months after the DOT first proposed the final rules structure. Since the Notice of Proposed Rule Making filing in February more than 15,000 comments were received. The DOT processed and accounted for those comments but made no major changes from the NPRM as a result.
Among the key rules:
Service Animals must be a trained dog
Only dogs are considered service animals under the new rules. The DOT will not allow other species to serve in that role. The Agency also requires that the dogs be 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.” This definition was chosen to mirror the definition used by the Department of Justice in the Americans with Disabilities Act, helping to align the Air Carrier Access Act with the broader experience passengers traveling with service animals with be familiar with.
Moreover, as part of the new rules airlines may require travelers to complete and submit to the airline a form, developed by DOT, attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, and certifying the animal’s good health. Airlines may require passengers to provide this form up to 48 hours prior to departure, assuming the reservation was made in advance. Otherwise it will be required at the gate.
Service Animals are limited
Passengers are limited to only two service animals and they must be small enough to fit on the traveler’s lap or in the foot well at a passenger’s seat. The size limitation is one of the more controversial sections of the new rule.
The DOT ” is sensitive to the fact that many large service animals, such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers, are commonly used to assist individuals with disabilities” but believes the size rule won’t be too troubling because “these animals are often trained to fit into small spaces.”
Moreover, airlines are required to block an adjacent seat if it is available, or to allow a free change to a later flight if sufficient space cannot be arranged. The airline can also offer to transport the animal free of charge in the hold to meet this requirement. Or, of course, passengers can purchase an extra seat to ensure sufficient space.
Airlines can charge for Emotional Support Animals
The ruling explicitly notes “Airlines will no longer be required to recognize emotional support animals (ESAs) as service animals.” This is described as “eliminating a market inefficiency…as airlines are currently prohibited from charging a pet fee for transporting emotional support animals.” With the new rule in place the DOT estimates a windfall of $54-59.6 million per year to the airlines through in-cabin pet fees that are not permitted under the legacy guidelines.
Additional highlights of the ruling can be seen below. The full filing is available here.
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It’s about time!
This is a shame. The animals made the zoo like atmosphere on airplanes more realistic.
About time too. Now to get AirBnB to make a similar rule. I’m fed up with renters in my apartment bring pets which they claim to be ESAs.
I’m thrilled to see this but would they’ve made a monumental mistake:
“Passengers are limited to only two service animals and they must be small enough to fit on the traveler’s lap or in the foot well at a passenger’s seat. The size limitation is one of the more controversial sections of the new rule.”
Absolutely controversial. They’ve lumped support animals and service animals into the same category??
The vetting process and YEARS of training organizations like Canine Companions for Independence put SERVICE dogs through makes service dogs as comparable to those ridiculous support dogs as a rocket ship is to a skate board. Both are modes of transport (as both are dogs), but that is where the similarities end in both cases.
Typical government overcorrection. Getting rid of support dogs – absolutely yes. Messing with specially bred & trained service dogs – moronic.
Seth Miller says
It is unclear to me what you mean by “lumped together” here. The rules explicitly differentiate between trained service animals and everything else that would fall under the support classification.
And if requiring ample space for the animal is “messing with” them then I’m not really sure what else to say. I understand concerns about the potential cost to the traveler with that animal, but that’s not really lumping the two together IMO.
I suppose the one area I’m unclear about is the treatment of “psychiatric service animals”. We all know there were doctors online selling fake certifications for emotional support animals… is it possible this practice will continue, with just the naming convention changed?
Seth Miller says
I think the training requirement to perform a specific task rather than just to “comfort” the passenger is part of it. And there’s the sworn affidavit that a passenger must sign attesting to that training, subject to “fines and other penalties” for lying.
Billy Bob says
Never underestimate the stupidity and crudity of the flying public. LOL
Good riddance some common sense rules
Howard Miller says
While I agree that far too many abused the system claiming their pets are “Emotional Support Animals” to evade paying fees for their otherwise ordinary pets, the airlines are hardly blameless in having raised in-cabin pet charges to $125 each way, which when took our 14 lbs dog NYC-RDU-NYC or NYC-Orlando (MCO)-NYC often cost (significantly) MORE than our roundtrip airfares.
And therein lies the problem:
With loopholes vastly diminished, and the opportunity to further gouge flyers now vastly enhanced, I cannot help but wonder how badly our airlines will now abuse passengers by increasing in-cabin fees and/or the cost for pets in cargo holds?
As it is, $125 each way for relatively short flights is outrageous; if in-cabin fees are increased further it’s nothing more than shameless, naked greed.
When You have been traveling internationally with a legitimate ESA for over 5 years and have provided legitimate doctor letters and more recently additional doctor statements, veterinary statement, animal health records in addition to ever increasing documentation and have a home trained, well behaved animal, try seeing how it feels to be suddenly denied this. Not a matter of cost, willingly would and will pay for this service. Walk in my shoes and stop being such uncaring individuals.
Seth Miller says
Dropping “international” into the comment is an interesting choice, especially considering how so many foreign carriers and countries don’t allow ESAs on board, or even pets in many cases. And the quarantine rules associated with taking animals across borders.
But if you got screwed by all the other people behaving so badly then, well, you got screwed. It was not hard to see this writing on the wall.