Following a revision to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Air Carrier Access Act, emotional support animals will no longer be classified as service animals in order to ensure safety in air transportation and travel. For many, this means your furry friend will no longer be guaranteed free flights or accommodations.
Discussion about a revision to the act arose after the department received increasing numbers of service animal complaints from, and on behalf of, passengers with disabilities. Alongside this, the USDOT saw an increase in fraudulent representation of pets as service animals, animal misbehavior reports, and “disruptions caused by requests to transport unusual species of animals…which has eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals.”
In the past, passengers have hauled unusual species of animals onto flights, claiming them as service animals. A 2003 Wall Street Journal article reported a passenger as bringing their miniature horse service animal onto an American Airlines flight, and in 2018, a woman attempted to bring her emotional support peacock aboard her United flight. Another woman was removed from her Frontier Airlines flight in late 2018 after bringing an emotional support squirrel aboard the plane.
To clarify what service animals are allowed on board, the final rule defines service animals 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.”
While emotional support animals are not required to be recognized as service animals, psychiatric service animals, which are trained to assist passengers with mental illnesses, will be treated similarly to other service animals.
Reclassification of service animals was not the only revision to the act, however. The act now allows airlines to require forms, which are developed by USDOT, to certify that a service animal is in good health, as well as certifying that the animal is trained and maintains good behavior.
The final rule, according to the USDOT’s website, will go into effect on January 1, 2021, 30 days after the publication date.
Individual airlines maintain their own rules and restrictions for flying with service animals and psychiatric service animals. If you’re planning to fly with your pet, make sure to do some research on your airline’s rules and regulations.