There's bad news for those who travel with emotional support pets as US airlines will be prohibiting them from traveling in plane cabins with their owners from early 2021. The Department of Transportation's (DOT's) ruling will not affect service animals, although the revised Air Carrier Access Act rules will see service animals redefined as dogs only.

This means that airlines will no longer have to accommodate miniature horses, cats, rabbits, birds and all other service animals. Service dogs who perform tasks for people with physical or mental disabilities are permitted in the cabin, but owners must complete a form developed by DOT attesting to the dog’s health, behavior and training to assist the airline in determining if the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.

A woman traveling on a plane with a support dogon her lap
The rules regarding emotional support dogs have been revised © Jodi Jacobson/Getty Images

The problem has been that, unlike task-trained service dogs, emotional support animals are not necessarily trained to behave in stressful environments. The DOT took into account evidence from airlines that animals being presented as emotional support animals have been responsible for a significant percentage of the incidents of animal misbehavior onboard aircraft. It also felt that the exclusion of emotional support animals would result in an overall reduction in the number of uncrated animals onboard aircraft, thereby reducing the overall number of potential allergic reactions.

According to Airlines for America, the DOT’s revised rules bring the definition of a service animal into alignment with the Department of Justice’s definition under the Americans with Disabilities Act, defining a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. It does not classify emotional support animals as service animals because providing emotional support, comfort or companionship does not constitute work or tasks.

The exact date that the rules come into effect hasn't been confirmed but further information is available here.

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