A new rule says that airlines don’t have to treat emotional support animals as service animals.
On Wednesday, the US Department of Transportation rule announced that ‘carriers are not required to recognize emotional support animals as service animals and may treat them as pets’.
Moreover, air carriers are also permitted to limit service animals to dogs.
The final rule on Traveling by Air with Service Animals 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’.
Emotional support animals are prescribed by mental health professionals to provide their owners with support and comfort, however, unlike service animals, they are not required to have training in specific tasks.
Airlines have also asked DOT to regulate this issue in part over their concern that passengers were fraudulently passing off their pets as the more loosely defined and fee-free category of emotional support animals.
For instance, flying with a small pet inside the cabin can cost $125 or more each way on US airlines.
According to the DOT, the new rule was also prompted by an increase in service animal complaints from passengers with disabilities, a lack of clarity around the definition of ‘service animal,’ misbehavior by emotional support animals, and disruptions caused by ‘requests to transport unusual species of animals onboard aircraft’.