- posted: Jan. 21, 2021
As a result of the pandemic, many of us did not spend much time on airplanes in 2020. When things return to “normal” in 2021, at least one thing will be different in the air – you probably won’t see pigs, or miniature horses, birds, or rabbits in the cabins of commercial airliners.
Until now, airlines were required to treat “emotional support animals” the same as trained service animals. Because airlines charge passengers for transporting pets, and are prohibited from charging passengers traveling with service animals, passengers had an incentive to claim their pets were ESAs. Airlines and other passengers reported many incidents of misbehavior by ESAs on aircraft and in the airport. The misbehavior included animals’ urinating, defecating, and in some instances, harming people and other animals at the airport or on the aircraft. A wide variety of animals, including pigs, horses and rabbits, were claimed to be ESAs. In addition to the misbehavior, the airlines also faced complaints from passengers with allergies who were forced to sit in close proximity to the animals.
Balancing the legitimate needs of passengers with disabilities and the recognition that animals on aircraft could pose safety and health concerns, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has now issued a new rule with a much narrower definition of service animals. The new rule allows airlines to recognize ESAs as pets rather than service animals, permitting airlines to charge passengers a fee for ESAs and to limit the number of animals in the cabin. There is also a DOT form a passenger must complete demonstrating that the service animal is properly trained and certified.
A service animal is now defined as a dog, regardless of breed, "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." Fully-trained service dogs may fly in the cabin at no charge if they meet the requirements.
In line with the new rule, several US airlines have amended their policies regarding animals in the cabin. Generally, the only pets allowed in the cabin are small cats and dogs. Anyone wishing to travel with a pet, service or emotional support animal should contact their airline directly for the specific guidelines related to their travel plans.