Mobility News

DOT Narrows Service Animal Definition for Air Travel

cat and dog heads side by side


The Department of Transportation’s new final rule clamps down on who can be classified as a service animal for air travel. Sorry, Fluffy.

You might not have noticed due to the decline in air traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic… but the Department of Transportation (DOT) has changed the rule for who’s allowed to fly as a “service animal.”

In December 2020, the DOT issued a final rule that changed the DOT’s Air Carrier Access Act regulations for service animals on airplanes. The new 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.”

The rule also allows “airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than service animals, and permits airlines to limit the number of service animals that one passenger can bring onboard an aircraft to two service animals.”

A number of major airlines — including, at press time, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines — changed their regulations and no longer classify emotional support animals as service animals. Accordingly, airlines can now treat emotional support animals as pets… with rules and fees to match.

Going forward, passengers who want to travel with service animals must complete a DOT-developed form and present it to the airline prior to travel. That form, the DOT said, must confirm the service animal’s training, good behavior, and good health.

For flights of eight hours or more, passengers can be required to fill out another form with information on how the service animal will (or won’t) relieve itself in a sanitary fashion while on the plane.

The DOT said the new final rule is in response to escalating numbers of service animal-related complaints from airlines and from people with disabilities. The agency also cited “the disruptions caused by requests to transport unusual species of animals onboard aircraft, which has eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals.”

The DOT noted that more and more passengers were “fraudulently” defining pets as service animals, and that “incidents of misbehavior by emotional support animals” were rising.