Emotional Support Animals No Longer Classified as Service Animals

Airlines now have the option to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than service animals, according to a final ruling by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Office of the Secretary (OST).

The amendment to the DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) defines a service animal 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.” The rule also permits airlines to limit the number of service animals per one passenger onboard to two, while also allowing airlines to require these passengers to complete and submit a form developed by the DOT, attesting to the animal’s training, good behavior and health.

According to the DOT, the rule also better ensures the safety of passengers and crewmembers by allowing airlines to require that service animals to be harnessed, leashed or otherwise tethered onboard an aircraft and includes requirements that would address the safe transport of large service animals in the aircraft cabin.

Airlines for America (A4A) applauded the new rule. Nicholas E. Calio, president and CEO of A4A, said in a statement: "Airlines are committed to promoting accessibility for passengers with disabilities and ensuring their safe travel. The Department of Transportation's final rule will protect the traveling public and airline crewmembers from untrained animals in the cabin, as well as improve air travel accessibility for passengers with disabilities that travel with trained service dogs.” 

Among the reasons for the ruling were an increasing number of service animal complaints, inconsistent definitions of a “service animal,” increasing frequency of fraudulent representations of pets as service animals, increased incidents of misbehavior of emotional support animals and more.

Emotional support animals are intended to mitigate a passenger’s disability by their presence and are expected to be trained to behave in public but are not individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a passenger with a disability.

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