What Are the New DOT Rules About Flying With Service Animals?

An increase in problems with animals on airline flights has prompted the Department of Transportation to review and revise its rules about service animals flying with their owners. In recent months, some airline passengers who travel with emotional support animals have insisted their animals be allowed to fly in the cabin despite their size or nature, which has caused a few issues and drawn protests from other passengers. If you have any type of service animal, you may want to understand how these new restrictions might affect you and any upcoming travel plans.

Rule Revision Causes 

The Department of Transportation made a final ruling concerning service animals in December of 2020, including emotional support animals. The DOT believes that some airline passengers were often bending the rules concerning their animals and this caused several problems, including:

  • The discomfort of other passengers
  • Larger animals limiting cabin space
  • People disguising pets as support animals

While emotional support animals do exist and can assist people suffering from anxiety disorder, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the DOT claims airlines are not required to make allowances for uncertified pets traveling as support animals, especially when it comes to in-cabin flight rules. No major airlines have made announcements concerning the new rules as of yet, but you can expect these changes to go into effect over the next month, which may affect you and your animal as passengers.

Altered EAS Restrictions 

If you plan to fly with your dog over the coming months, then you may want to review the new DOT rules about emotional support animals and service animals in general. In the past, most airlines have allowed emotional services animals to travel with their owners when they could present a letter from a physician, but in recent months, issues with animal size and breed caused the DOT to change the rules and make flying a pleasant experience for everyone on board.

The DOT now considers emotional support animals as pets and not true or certified service companions. This means ESAs will have to travel in the baggage area of the plane and that any animal must be small enough to fit at the owner’s foot space to be allowed in the cabin. Service animals must be leashed at all times and cannot display any signs of aggression. If you plan on traveling with your service dog via an airline, you may have to submit forms certifying your animal at least two days before the flight departs. The new law also defines a service animal as a dog and that airlines need not accommodate other species such as cats, pigs, birds, and other small mammals.

New Law Effects on ESA Owners 

These new restrictions may have an effect on all service animal owners, even if they are not ESAs. Now that the new Air Carrier Access Act defines a service animal as a dog that is specifically trained to assist a disabled owner, any ESA may be seen as a pet and may not be able to travel with you in the cabin. However, airlines may not ban service dogs based on their breed, especially if they are certified to assist you based on a disability.

If you still wish to travel with your emotional support animal, you may be subject to several fees related to its crating and transport in the baggage hold. While this is partly due to the new definition of what a service animal truly is, it may also discourage those who want to travel with pets and try to pass them off as emotional service animals. As a result of this issue, other passengers have suffered bites and other problems while sitting near untrained dogs and other species.

What You Can Do 

If you plan on traveling with your dog, there are a few steps you may want to take after reserving your flight. Whether the animal is trained to assist you with a physical or mental disability, you may want to contact the airline to discuss their individual rules about service animals and whether yours falls under the definition of the DOT’s new guidelines.

If you want to travel with your emotional support animal, it may have to travel in a carrier in the cargo hold, depending on which airlines no longer allow larger animals in the cabin. You may also need to submit DOT forms that certify your dog is trained to travel with you and will not relieve itself in the cabin, as some untrained animals have in the past. You can ask your airline which documents you might need before you board so there are no problems or confusion on the day you are scheduled to travel.

The Department of Transportation’s new guidelines regarding airline travel and service animals flying is designed to maintain the comfort of all passengers involved. You can register your service animal today, provide yourself with peace of mind and prepare your animal for your next airline trip.




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