The federal Department of Transportation has issued their long-awaited final rule regarding transporting emotional and service animals by air. This rule was enacted in response to the difficulties that airlines and other passengers were experiencing with various types of animals designated by the owner as an emotional support animal. The lack of clarity on the rights of individuals utilizing emotional support animals were highlighted in instances where fellow passengers were physically harmed by an unrestrained (and evidently untrained) animal nebulously characterized as an emotional support animal. Read on to learn more about the new federal regulations for emotional support animals as well as service animals.
When the final rule goes into effect (30 days after it is published in the federal register), airlines will gain significant authority to regulate emotional support and service animals while flying.
Airlines are permitted to treat emotional support animals as pets.
Briefly stated, airlines do not need to treat emotional support animals as service animals. Rather, airlines may recognize emotional support animals as pets rather than service animals.
Airlines have also gained the ability to restrict service animals in a number of areas.
This final rule 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. This definitional limitation of a service animal as a dog provides a significant clarification of what constitutes a service animal as it relates to flying.
When the final rule goes into effect, airlines will be permitted to:
The final rule prohibits airlines from requiring that a passenger physically check in at the airport solely on the basis that the individual is traveling with a service animal. This part of the rule is intended to ensure that service animal users are not prevented from enjoying the same convenience-related benefits provided to other passengers, such as online and curbside check-in. Service animal users may use the online check-in process available to the general public.
Finally, the new rule specifies the circumstances under which the user of a service animal may be charged for damage caused by the service animal.
Read the final rule, entitled Traveling by Air with Service Animals.
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