Only Dogs Can Fly Under New Service Animal Rule

A service dog strolls through the isle inside a United Airlines plane at Newark Liberty International Airport while taking part of a training exercise in 2017. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(CN) — Emotional support pets and service animals that aren’t dogs will no longer be allowed on planes after the Transportation Department finalized a rule Wednesday limiting animals on flights.  

Emotional support animals are no longer considered to be service animals under the new rule and are instead considered pets. The department had previously required airlines to allow animals to board if the passenger presented a doctor’s note confirming that the animal was needed for emotional support, but airlines argued that some people abused the system.

The change means emotional support animals will no longer be allowed a free ride under the Air Carrier Access Act, or ACAA. Once the rule takes effect in 30 days, owners of those pets will either have to pay for their companions to travel or leave them behind.

As for more unique carry-on critters, airlines were never required to allow spiders, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders or snakes on a plane, regardless of whether they were considered emotional support animals or service animals.

Now, cats don’t even make the cut.

Service animals, which are specifically trained to help people with disabilities, are still fully protected under the ACAA, but the new rule limits what type of animal counts for the purposes of air travel.

The rule states that only a dog can qualify as a service animal on flights and it must be “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.”

Any breed or type of dog is acceptable under the rule so long as it fits that service animal criteria and can help travelers who have physical, sensory, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities.

According to the Transportation Department, the change is intended to promote safe air travel and accessibility for those with disabilities. It comes in response to concerns raised by disabled travelers, airlines, flight attendants, airports and others.   

“The final rule also allows airlines to require passengers with a disability traveling with a service animal to complete and submit to the airline a form, developed by DOT, attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, and certifying the animal’s good health,” the rule states.

If the planned flight is eight hours or longer, a passenger may also be required to sign paperwork attesting to their service dog’s “ability either not to relieve itself on a long flight or to relieve itself in a sanitary manner.”

The DOT forbids airlines from making a passenger who requires a service animal physically check-in at the airport in order to complete the paperwork. But it does allow airlines to require the passenger to provide these forms up to 48 hours before the day of travel if the trip is scheduled in advance. As an alternative, airlines can tell a passenger to provide the forms before takeoff at the departure gate.

The proposal received more than 15,000 comments since the department sought asked for feedback in January.

A service dog named Orlando rests on the foot of its trainer while sitting inside a United Airlines plane at Newark Liberty International Airport during a training exercise in 2017.(AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
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