Although the Emotional Support Animal (ESA) program is invaluable to those who actually need it, the Department of Transportation (DOT) feels that many airline passengers take advantage of the certification. Some simply get their pets ESA-certified for the sake of flying with them, and on a few occasions, less domesticated animals — such as peacocks and rodents — have somehow managed to bag the necessary credentials.
Is the DOT no longer enabling Emotional Support Animals to go on planes? Stay tuned for everything you need to know about the latest ruling regarding your beloved fur baby.
Are no more ESA pets allowed on planes?
On Wednesday, Dec. 3, the DOT updated the Airline Carrier Access Act (ACAA) with a contentious new ruling. It now states that emotional support animals are considered pets rather than actual service animals, which they officially define as: “dog[s] that [are] individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.” Disabilities — they elaborate — include: physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disabilities.
With this new ruling, ESA pets aren't officially barred from entry, but airlines can ban ESA pets from the cabin if they don't fit the requirements. Service pet owners are also now mandated to fill out a form 48 hours beforehand, attesting to the animal's training and health, and although specific breeds aren't banned, the DOT requires the animal to fit within passenger's foot space on the flight, and remain leashed or harnessed at all times. Passengers are also now limited to two pets per person.
The DOT's latest policy will be implemented one month after its officially published in the Federal Register, according to Travel + Leisure, which hasn't yet happened. Prior to implementing these new rulings, there was no limit to what species could board planes — flyers have attempted to bring squirrels, reptiles, and birds on planes for emotional support.
Why were these new rules put into effect? It's a point of contention for many.
Individuals with disabilities that do require service animals, as well as airline workers, petitioned to put this new rule into effect.
“The final rule announced today addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft,” the DOT said in an official statement, as per The Washington Post.
Twitter user @Kris10Parisi took to Twitter to express her distaste for those who she feels have taken advantage of the system.
"F--k the non-disabled people who called their pets emotional support animals just to skirt the rules. You have done irreparable damage to disabled people who rely on their emotional support animals. We sacrifice for your abled world & you damage us every step of the way," she wrote.
Twitter user @ShaddKelsey also expressed issues with the new rule. She took to the social media site to say: "U know what’s not fair.. all animals being banned by TSA other than dogs. Like???? Some people have emotional support piggies or other animals. Sad. I get most people don’t wanna fly with animals but sheesh."
As previously mentioned, these rules have not yet gone into effect, but once they do, you may want to consider seeking out other arrangements for your pets while you travel, unless they are actual service animals.