Emotional Support Animals Grounded

The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that it will be issuing a final rule early next year that makes significant changes to its current Air Carrier Access Act service animal rule.

The DOT will exclude from the service animal definition all non-task-trained animals, such as emotional support animals. The new definition will allow airlines to require that:

  • a service animal must be a dog and trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability;
  • a passenger desiring to travel with a service animal must submit a DOT form attesting to the service animal’s health, behavior, and training, which will help the airline determine if the animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
  • a service animal be harnessed, leashed, or otherwise tethered on board an aircraft.

The DOT predicts that by allowing airlines to exclude emotional support animals from the definition of service animal, there will be an overall reduction in animal misbehavior incidents on board aircraft, some of which have caused bodily harm, resulting in lawsuits.

The DOT hopes that the rule modification will ensure the safety of passengers and crewmembers while continuing to accommodate those passengers that truly require trained service animals to accompany them on flights.