According to the Department of Transportation's updated rules, emotional support animals are not considered service animals.

By Cailey Rizzo
December 03, 2020
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The rules for boarding flights with your emotional support animal just got a bit stricter.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Wednesday that it will no longer consider emotional support animals to be service animals, allowing airlines to potentially ban them from the cabin if they do not fit established rules for pets. 

The DOT’s Airline Carrier Access Act (ACAA) now strictly defines a service animal as a “dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” 

That disability can include, “physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

Dog in airport
Credit: iStock/Getty Images

Those traveling with a service animal will be required to complete a form 48 hours before boarding, attesting that the animal has been trained and has good behavior and good health. Passengers may be limited to no more than two service animals.

The policy will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which has not yet happened. 

With the new DOT ruling, airlines are not allowed to ban a specific breed of dog as a service animal. However, the service animal must be able to “fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft,” which could severely limit which breeds are allowed onboard. The animals must remain harnessed, leashed or tethered at all time while onboard. 

The ruling will allow airlines to consider emotional support animals as pets, rather than service animals, and they will be subject to the airline's in-cabin rules for pets.

Previous DOT guidance did not permit airlines to restrict passengers from traveling with emotional support animals and they could not ban a specific breed or a species. Animals like cats, rabbits, and even squirrels have been brought on board as emotional support.

For the past few years, airlines have been cracking down on which animals are allowed onboard. In 2018, United barred a peacock from flying, instating new rules that emotional support animals must have paperwork showing their training.  

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, on Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.