New DOT Regulation Could Crack Down on Flying With Emotional Support Animals

After an explosion of controversy and consumer complaints over animals on board aircraft, the Department of Transportation is soliciting comment for proposed changes to the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) that could clamp down on rules that some passengers view as too freewheeling.

At issue is the debate over which, if any, protections should be offered to emotional support animals – animals that provide comfort to people, but do not perform specific tasks as in the case of service animals.

Currently, both service and emotional support animals fly for free — and while some airlines have started restricting species, there’s no specific guidance on whether unusual animals should be permitted in the cabin of aircraft.

Some people claim that passengers are using protections for emotional support animals as a shield to allow them to fly free with their pets. Consumers and airlines alike are complaining about issues like soiled cabins, animal attacks and passengers made nervous by declared support animals like snakes. The proposed rulemaking could have some unintended consequences, though.

One prompt asks whether psychiatric service animals should be treated like other kinds of service animals. It’s important to be aware that psychiatric service animals are not emotional support animals: They are trained to perform specific tasks to assist their handlers with tasks they can’t perform on their own. Some remind people to take medication, distract them when they engage in self-harming behavior or scout new environments to mitigate PTSD.

The DOT currently requires people flying with ESAs to make arrangements with airlines ahead of time, and extends the same requirement to psychiatric service animals — something disabled people say is discriminatory when guide dogs, mobility dogs, seizure alert dogs  and other service animals that assist people with physical or medical disabilities aren’t subjected to the same rules.

The DOT also wants to know if service animals and emotional support animals should be classified differently, which would be in alignment with other legislation and rulemaking. The Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, does not fold service and emotional support animals together, but the ACAA does.

Agency representatives are asking whether airlines can require ESAs to be contained on board planes, in an effort to reduce some complaints about loose animals in the cabin. Furthermore, the agency wants to know whether ESA status should be limited to particular species, such as dogs and cats, and asks whether it should be permissible to limit the number of animals an individual traveler brings with them. The DOT is also considering size limitations on animals in the cabin.

In response to concerns raised by service animal handlers, the DOT is also exploring requirements for training and restraint, with the goal of ensuring that animals on board aircraft have received sufficient training. Additionally, the agency is exploring the possibility of requiring animals to be leashed or otherwise in clear control of their handlers, thus reducing the risk of threats like dog attacks or loose animals. And finally, the DOT is soliciting comments on whether veterinary forms documenting proof of vaccinations and general health should be required, as is currently the case.

Airlines, disability rights advocates and other stakeholders are involved in the conversation over how to address the very real problem of bad animal behavior on board commercial aircraft. Right now, the DOT is in the process of “proposed rulemaking,” asking members of the public to comment on potential subjects of new rules so the agency can draft rules that will reflect the public’s concerns.

You can submit comments on Regulations.gov if you want to take part in this process — read the prompts thoroughly to make sure you understand precisely what the agency is asking for, so you can tailor your responses. This is an opportunity for you to weigh in early on changes that could affect you or loved ones.

If the agency moves forward with rulemaking, there will be opportunities to comment on the proposed rule itself before it can be enacted.

Photo credit: Hiroyuki Takeda

48 comments

Dave f
Dave f7 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Anna R
Anna R7 days ago

Thank you

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Nicole H
Nicole H9 days ago

Again, I must ascertain that in the U.S. the laws / regulations on service dogs and emotional supporting dogs are far behind the rules applied in my country. Here, each dog of over 5 kilos must be transported in a special crate, and IS NOT ALLOWED on board with the owner. They all are transported in the cargo hold and so did we. Our last one, Sheba, weighed 8,5 kilos, but I did NOT take the risk. The under 5 kilo dogs also had to be in a transport box, or a big handbag, closed with a zipper, so only the dog's head was visible, and it had to be muzzled. But there were never accidents on board the plane, and I never heard about any dogs getting out of the cargo hold which were dead!.. We put Sheba a thick wintercoat, and had warm plaids in her travel box, as well as a special water bowl which cld be attached to the bars. We also attached several stickers with her name on it, our home address, our phone numbers as well as our holiday address.

Only real service dog, with an official document issued by a specialized training company, and a document signed by 2 separate doctors, who examined the patient, confirming she needed a service dog, were accepted on board the plane. They all had to be leashed very shortly, muzzled, and kept on the floor, at the owners' feet. Unless you paid for an additional seat !!

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Angela G
Angela G9 days ago

I see so many uncrated animals flying these days, not sure why

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Sherri S
Sherri S9 days ago

It's so upsetting that some stupid, selfish humans are ruining this for those that really need to support animals.

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Angeles M
Angeles Madrazo9 days ago

Thank you

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Winn A
Winnie A9 days ago

Noted

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Debbi W
Debbi W9 days ago

The old adage, a few bad apples will spoil the barrel, is still true today, unfortunately. A few selfish, thoughtless people are making it very difficult for people who are dependent on their support animals and need or want to fly. I hope the airlines will require legitimate paperwork that can be verified, and that doctors stop catering the to the wealthy and/or spoiled.

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Diane E
Diane E10 days ago

They need to have regulations for these animals. I agree with a special code in their chip if they have been trained properly. I can't believe how many people take their dogs everywhere because they are their emotional support. I see them in every store around here and they aren't all trained. Most dogs who visit people in hospitals and nursing homes have to go through some type of training and certification.

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Anne M
Anne Moran10 days ago

Who isn’t anxious when they fly ?? - I mean we would all need an animal for our emotional support when flying.. - I have a phobia of flying, but I took meds and a few drinks, which was all I needed.. - Would have never thought of getting a dog to soothe my anxiety.. - I do think a lot of people use it as an excuse for a free ride for their pooch.. - I’d ban it, as it’s just one big hassle for the rest of the passengers, especially if Fido is a barker... - Bad enough having a screaming baby next to you,, forget animals... - People are too close and too confined to have to put up with that..

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