By Stacey Leasca
January 22, 2020
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If you’ve got opinions on emotional support and service animals, now is the time to share them.

On Wednesday, the Department of Transportation announced it is soliciting feedback on a proposed amendment to the regulation of service animals on flights. The proposed changes include limiting the definition of a service animal and no longer requiring airlines to accept emotional support animals on flights. The potential new law change would also limit the number of service animals to two per person per flight.

“The proposed amendments are intended to ensure that our air transportation system is safe for the traveling public and accessible to individuals with disabilities,” the proposal states.

Specifically, the department is proposing to define a service animal, under The Air Carrier Access Act regulations, as a dog 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.” (Sorry, emotional support squirrels and peacocks aren't coming back anytime soon.)

Additionally, the proposal seeks to allow airlines to recognize emotional support animals, which are not specifically trained to do work or perform tasks, as pets rather than service animals.

Beyond redefining what constitutes a service animal, the proposal also calls to allow airlines to require all passengers with a disability traveling with a service animal to complete and submit three forms developed by the DOT. Those forms will attest to the animal’s behavior, its ability to refrain from relieving itself on a plane, and its health, and will include a box for the owner to check to attest that it is indeed a service animal.

Credit: Getty Images

And that last box is the real doozy. If the proposed changes were to go through, anyone “knowingly” lying on the documents could be charged with a federal crime, which could lead to both fines and/or jail time.

Additionally, right now some airlines require those traveling with service or emotional support animals to submit forms up to 48 hours in advance of flying. However, if the new proposal were to go into effect it would limit that to one additional hour prior to general check-in requirements. This way, those flying with an animal could book last-minute travel just like everyone else.

To be clear, this rule would not ban airlines from accepting emotional support animals on flights. Instead, it would no longer require airlines to take them. That means it would be up to each individual airline to make their own rules regarding emotional support animals.

“When there are abuses in the system it’s the people with disabilities who suffer,” a DOT official said on a media call. “Access is really important and when we do look at our responsibilities, access is one of the most — if not the most — important.” This proposal, the official stated, “...will ensure greater access while improving safety as well.”

While no timeline has been set for this potential rule change, consumers now have 60 days to comment. If you want to make it known you still wish to travel with an emotional support animal, or if you'd like to voice your support of the amendment, head to the Federal eRulemaking Portal and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.