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ICYMI: DOT Announces Final Rule on Traveling by Air with Service Animals

The new rules take effect January 11, 2021.

The Department of Transportation announced on December 2, 2020 that it will revise its rules under the Air Carrier Access Act to no longer require airlines to make the same accommodations for emotional support animals as they do for trained service dogs.

The revised rules define a service animal as "a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” Emotional support animals will no longer qualify as service animals for flights according to the rule, but psychiatric service animals will.

"Psychiatric service animals" are dogs that have been trained to perform specific actions directly related to the person’s disability. For example: a dog trained to recognize an individual's anxiety and apply deep pressure therapy to alleviate such anxiety; a dog trained to provide medication reminders; or a dog trained to physically interrupt self-harming behaviors.
"Emotional support animals" can be animals other than dogs, and provide comfort to their handlers simply by existing.

The new rules:

  1. Allow airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s health, behavior and training, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;

  2. Prohibit airlines from requiring passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to physically check-in at the airport instead of using the online check-in process;

  3. Allow airlines to require a person with a disability seeking to travel with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel;

  4. Allow airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals;

  5. Allow airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft; and

  6. Allow airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times in the airport and on the aircraft.

Additionally, the rules continue to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and continues to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.

According to the DOT, complaints by passengers, inconsistent service animal definitions, fraudulent representations and animal misbehavior drove the changes to the Rules.

The DOT’s press release on the revised rules can be accessed here. The new rules will take effect January 11, 2021.

For more about the Air Carriers Access Act and how it prohibits discrimination in air travel see here.

If you believe you have been the subject of discriminatory treatment in violation of the Air Carriers Access Act, you can file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.

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