Brown dog looking into distance.

DOT Ruling on Service Animals: What You Need to Know

In January 2020, the Department of Transportation proposed changes to its rules around service animals allowed on airplanes. They proposed to ban all animals, except dogs, and no longer force the airlines to let animals be with passengers who say they need their pets for emotional support. While the Transportation Department say they recognize the role of these service animals to assist people with disabilities, the changes would help reduce the likelihood of passengers falsely claiming their pets are service animals. 

This new regulation was approved by the federal government on December 3, 2020. According to DOT, only dogs as service animals are allowed on airplanes. A service animal is defined as a trained dog – regardless of breed – to perform tasks or do work for a qualified passenger with a disability. The disabilities include sensory, intellectual, physical, psychiatric and mental disabilities. Under the new rule, airlines are permitted to limit the number of service animals per passenger to just two dogs. 

Why They Proposed an Overhaul

There are a  few reasons why the rules were altered. In recent years, the number of passengers fraudulently representing their cats or other pets as service animals has increased. Further, emotional support animals have also threatened the health and safety of the airline crews and passengers. There were flight attendants that have been compromised and hurt by untrained animals in the cabin. 

DOT also responded to a congressional mandate requiring them to conduct a proceeding on the definition of a service animal and to develop standards on what is required for both emotional support animals and service animals. This new ruling ensures the safety of the airline’s crew members and passengers from untrained animals. 

When the final ruling came out, it received more than 15,000 comments and have rekindled debates among groups who support people with disabilities, travelers who take pets with them and the airlines themselves. Passengers who want their pets to accompany them during travel can still do so but it’s subject to the airline’s rules for bringing pets. Washington based American trade association Airlines for America welcomed all changes to the new ruling. Other airlines such as Southwest and Delta are currently reviewing their own policies about taking pets onboard. There are some airlines that still allow pets in their cabin for a fee. Delta, one of the largest airlines in the US requires passengers with pets to provide proof of vaccinations and training at least 2 days before the flight. And it should be signed by a licensed professional, ensuring that the pet behaves during the entire flight. 

The Final Rule

This rule is effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register:

  • Emotional support animals such as cats or miniature horses are no longer considered service animals. 
  • A service animal is defined as a dog trained specifically to perform tasks or do work for a qualified person with a physical, mental or intellectual disability. 
  • The ruling still requires airlines to allow psychiatric service animals as service animals. 
  • Airlines can request forms from the passengers attesting to the animal’s behavior and training. These forms must be from the Department of Transportation. For long flights, it should attest that the service animal can either relieve itself properly or not relieve itself. 
  • Airlines are allowed to require travelers accompanied by their service animals to submit DOT service animal forms. These forms must be submitted 48 hours before the scheduled flight. 
  • Passengers with disabilities accompanied by their service animals are allowed to take advantage of the online check-in process, just like the regular passengers. The ruling prohibits airlines from requiring these passengers to do a physical check-in. 
  • Passengers with service animals are required to provide DOT forms at the departure gate. 
  • The number of service animals that a passenger can bring with him during travel is limited to only two. These service animals must fit within the passenger’s foot space. 
  • Airlines are allowed to refuse service animals that poses threat or displays aggressive behavior.
  • Airlines are prohibited to refuse the transport of service animals based on the dog’s breed. 

Helpful Tips for Traveling with Service Animals

Before your flight, make sure that you have acquired and submitted all the necessary documentation required by the airline. If it’s your first time to travel with a service animal, you may not know how they would behave in a busy crowd in a confined space. Consider making a trial run at home for practice. 

Do not forget your service animals’ bathroom break at the airport and before takeoff. On the plane, ensure that your service animal does not block areas or ailes. They must occupy your foot space and some airlines may allow them on your lap. You will have to check with your airlines regarding this. Consider having extra legroom to accommodate your service animal to make him more comfortable. You may be allowed bulkhead seating depending on the airlines. 

First-timers may be a little apprehensive about traveling with service animals but you should be okay so long as you have made all your preparations. Plan ahead as much as possible and get everything you needed weeks before your scheduled flight. Most importantly, just stay calm during the entire flight. 

Hiring a pet transport service is also a good idea. They prioritize your pets’ convenience and safety at all times. A pet transport service’s ultimate goal is to get your service animal safely to your desired location. They cater to both land and air travel. For your peace of mind, they will give you regular updates on how your pet is doing. Other amenities they offer include routine exercise and grain-free food. There are some that also offer pet transport nanny to ensure comfortable and safe travel. 

Let us know if you need more information about pet transport services. 

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