Kiss your emotional support peacock goodbye! As of January 11th, 2021, the US Department of Transportation has aligned their definition of “service animal” with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), limiting the designation of dogs only on planes. There are currently no breed restrictions.
The Department received more than 15,000 comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking. The final ruling addresses concern raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.
As of the ruling, emotional support animals will no longer be considered “Service Animals” by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and will need to travel as pets during flights. Psychiatric service animals will continue to be legitimate service animals.
The final rule:
- 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;
- No longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal;
- Requires airlines to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals;
- Allows airlines to require forms developed by DOT attesting to a service animal’s health, behavior, and training, and if taking a long flight attesting that the service animal can either not relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner;
- Allows airlines to require individuals traveling with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) up to 48 hours in advance of the date of travel if the passenger’s reservation was made prior to that time;
- Prohibits airlines from requiring passengers with a disability who are traveling with a service animal to physically check-in at the airport instead of using the online check-in process;
- Allows airlines to require a person with a disability seeking to travel with a service animal to provide the DOT service animal form(s) at the passenger’s departure gate on the date of travel;
- Allows airlines to limit the number of service animals traveling with a single passenger with a disability to two service animals;
- Allows airlines to require a service animal to fit within its handler’s foot space on the aircraft;
- Allows airlines to require that service animals be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times in the airport and on the aircraft;
- Continues to allow airlines to refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior and that pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others; and
- Continues to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed.
Flying With Your Guide Dog?
For those of us using guide dogs, this new ruling comes with a welcome sigh of relief. I love my guide dog, Frances, and I depend on her when using all modes of transportation. However, air travel has always been difficult as a guide dog team.
I have had many experiences with multiple service dogs being on the same mode of transportation without issue; I have also experienced “emotional support” animals going out of control in public spaces. These animals are exhibiting signs of stress, anxiety, or aggression because their humans have put them in situations they are not trained to effectively cope with. Sadly, as more egregious misuse of emotional support animals has occurred, those of us with legitimate service animals, like guide dogs, have paid the price. Each of us has experienced a situation where our integrity and the legitimacy of our dogs have been questioned.
You must remember, legally there are only “two” questions a person can ask any guide dog team:
- Is your dog a service animal required because of a disability (for the ADA defined as substantially limits one or more major life activities)?
- What work or task has this dog been trained to do?
The Department of Transportation (DOT) will now require the following DOT forms for each service animal traveling with a customer beginning February 1, 2021:
- U.S. Department of Transportation Air Transportation Service Animal Training and Behavior Attestation Form
- U.S. Department of Transportation Service Animal Relief Attestation Form (Relief Form) (for flights scheduled to take 8 hours or more)
Most airlines require the Training and Behavior Form and, if applicable, the Relief Form to be completed and submitted to their designated Accessibility Desk at least 48 hours before your scheduled departure. If you’ve purchased travel less than 48 hours before your departure, you will be asked to provide the DOT forms to the gate agent.
It is imperative you reach out to the Accessibility Desk for your designated airline in advance of your travel date for further information. Additional destination-specific documentation may be required for a service animal when traveling to certain destinations.
Only time will tell how this new ruling will impact guide dog teams and training. Blind Motherhood believes it’s a step in the right direction to ensure a safe and secure flying experience for the blind and their guides.
Do you have an opinion on emotional support peacocks? Hamsters? Chickens? Do you and your guide dog frequent the friendly skies? If so, leave a comment here.