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DOT Proposal Wants To “Ban” Emotional Support Animals

Jan 23, 2020

The United States Department of Transportation has put out a new proposal that would make it more difficult for passengers to travel with any emotional support animal that is not a dog.

The DOT is seeking to revamp policies regarding air travel and emotional support animals.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is “intended to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system. It addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.

“The Department recognizes the integral role that service animals play in the lives of many individuals with disabilities and wants to ensure that individuals with disabilities can continue using their service animals while also reducing the likelihood that passengers wishing to travel with their pets on aircraft will be able to falsely claim their pets are service animals.”

The proposed amendments to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) which is open for public comment for 60 days, would now limit the definition of a service animal as a dog. Currently the policy allows for travelers to list dogs, cats and miniature horses as service animals.

Passengers with a physical or psychological condition will be required that their dog be trained to assist regarding whatever condition the traveler has. The passenger will have to fill out a DOT form “attesting to a service animal’s good behavior, certifying the service animal’s good health, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal has the ability to either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner.” This means it will be much hard to to bring a pet in the cabin just because it makes the traveler “feel better”.

The proposal also wants to limit the size of service animals, requiring that they “fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft.” Travelers will also be limited to two service animals per passenger.

Here is a full summary of the proposal:

  • Define a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability;
  • No longer consider an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
  • Consider a psychiatric service animal to be a service animal and require the same training and treatment of psychiatric service animals as other service animals;
  • Allow airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s good behavior, certifying the service animal’s good health, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal has the ability to either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
  • Allow airlines to require passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to check-in at the airport one hour prior to the travel time required for the general public to ensure sufficient time to process the service animal documentation and observe the animal;
  • Require airlines to promptly check-in passengers with service animals who are subject to an advanced check-in process;
  • Allow airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals;
  • Allow airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
  • Continue to allow airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, tethered, or otherwise under the control of its handler;
  • Continue to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
  • Continue to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely on the basis of breed.

Even if the proposal is passed, these amendments would still stand as guidelines, and airlines would still have final say if they want to allow an emotional support animal on board or not. However the new policies would make it harder to bring any and every animal on board, and airlines might be quick to recommend putting these animals in the hold if they don’t fall within the above guidelines.

Officials note that passengers trying to pass off an untrained pet as a service animal could face potential fines and/or jail time.

While many may disagree, the proposal does try to bring some balance as in the past, passengers would have brought (or tried to bring on) a variety of animals including peacocks, monkeys, kangaroos, snakes, and even penguins.

[Featured Photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith]

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