Under New Proposal, Emotional Support Animals May No Longer Be Welcome In Plane Cabin

by SharonKurheg

Airlines would no longer be required to accept emotional support animals under a new proposal the U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday.

The DOT said it, “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.” So the Department released a document Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that included the following:

  • …the Department proposes to define a service animal, under its ACAA regulations…as a dog 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.
  • …this NPRM proposes to allow airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets rather than service animals.
  • The NPRM also proposes to allow airlines to require all passengers with a disability traveling with a service animal to complete and submit to the airline forms developed by DOT attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, certifying the animal’s good health, and attesting that the animal has the ability either not to relieve itself on a long flight or to relieve itself in a sanitary manner.
  • …this NPRM would clarify existing prohibitions on airlines’ imposing breed restrictions on service animals and would allow airlines to set policies to limit the number of service animals that one passenger can bring onboard an aircraft.
  • This NPRM would also generally require service [sic] to be harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered.
  • This NPRM also proposes requirements that would address the safe transport of large service animals in the aircraft cabin and would clarify when the user of a service animal may be charged for damage caused by the service animal.

What’s the difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, any dog trained to perform specific tasks for a disabled individual that they cannot or have difficulty completing by themselves is a service dog. Examples would be to guide his/her owner who has no or low vision and/or hearing, alert before their owner has a seizure or an episode of dangerously low blood sugar or blood pressure, reach or do things because of their owner’s physical disabilities, calm their owner who is having a PTSD episode, etc. (here’s a list of the 10 most common service dog specializations).

An emotional support animal is one that provides emotional support and comfort to their owners. No individualized special training is involved and emotional support animals are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Many emotional support animals know basic obedience because their owners teach them to sit, stay, etc., but because the animals haven’t been formally trained for all circumstances like service dogs are, you’ll encounter animals that are scared in the unfamiliarity of an airport of plane, and they act out. Whereas part of a service dog’s individualized training is to learn appropriate behavior in all public situations, including airports and the confines of planes.

What could the new ruling mean for owners of emotional support animals?

  • Emotional support animals could be categorized as pets. Airlines are aware that some passengers try to pass off their pets as support animals, in order to allow the animal to be carrier-free and to avoid paying the associated fees of bringing a pet on the plane. If the proposed rule were to become final, it would mean that emotional support animals would have to comply with the airlines’ respective rules for pets. Those rules are more restrictive, including use of carriers, maximal height & weight dimensions, and having to be stored in the luggage hold (along with the fees that go with that) if they’re too big to fit under the seat in front of their owner.

The 94 pages of documentation about this go into a lot (and I mean a LOT) of detail (and yes, I read most of it. Once a health care worker, always a health care worker, even if you don’t work as a health care worker anymore LOL). If it all goes into effect, those with trained service animals should have no worries. Those with emotional support animals? Maybe not so much.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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