The DoT May Be About To Ban Your Support Animal

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The Department of Transportation has proposed a ban on emotional support animals being allowed to fly. This follows a surge in the numbers of untrained animals boarding flights, and more incidents involving these animals too.

ESA ban
Emotional support animals could be banned from flights. Photo: Delta/Pixabay/Simple Flying

What does the DoT propose?

The rule, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, proposes to continue allowing real, trained service animals on board flights. These are animals such as guide dogs and trained assistance dogs, used by people with disabilities to get through everyday life. It would not, however, allow emotional support animals to fly.

The proposal also details new scope for airlines to create their own rules around taking animals on board. This could include things like people with service animals checking in early, having a maximum number of animals allowed on board or having animals able to fit in the footwell of the seat.

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dog on a plane
Under the proposed rules, dogs would need to be small enough to fit under the seat in front. Photo: Paul Shultz via Flickr

Under the proposed rules, airlines would be given far more freedom to decide whether an animal is fit to fly. The early check-in rule could be leveraged in order to give staff the time to assess whether the animal is a good fit, and to make a decision on allowing it on board.

However, airlines would no longer be allowed to discriminate based on the breed of the animal, preventing stranding such as occurred with a Delta passenger and his pit bull-type dog previously.

Are emotional support animals a problem?

In short, yes. Emotional support animals are starting to become quite a concern on US flights. The Washington Post reports that more than 751,000 ESAs flew on commercial flights in 2017. Delta Air Lines alone flew some 250,000 that year, up 150,000 from the year before. Overall, 74% more ESAs flew in 2017 than did the year before.

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More than a million emotional support animals have flown in 2018. Photo: Pexels

Figures for 2018 and 2019 are sparse, but reports indicate airlines have seen similar levels of growth. The Chicago Tribune estimates that 2018 saw the number of pets flown exceeding the 1m mark. While the notion of having animals in the cabin is not a problem in itself, the behavior of these often untrained pets has caused a number of issues.

In the past 12 months alone, we’ve reported on dog attacks on board flights, both to other passengers and to flight attendants. Huge dogs in business class drooling over other passengers’ meals is never a good thing, and we’re pretty sure miniature horses don’t fit very well in the footwell under a seat.

The Association of Flight Attendants has issued a statement in support of the ban of ESAs on board. They stated,

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“Passengers claiming pets as emotional support animals has threatened the safety and health of passengers and crews in recent years while this practice skyrocketed. Untrained pets should never roam free in the aircraft cabin. Flight Attendants have been hurt and safety has been compromised by untrained animals loose in the cabin.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end.”

While not being able to fly pets in the cabin will likely sting for those owners with perfectly well-behaved pets, this has to come down to a case of the bad conduct of a few hurting the freedom of many. While many animals may be perfectly behaved on a plane, the fact that a handful haven’t been, and that this has jeopardized the safety of the flight, clearly needs to be addressed.

Delta dogs
While most animals are fine, a few have caused problems. Photo: Delta

The DoT proposal is open for public consultation for the next 60 days. After that, the DoT will review comments and will propose a final policy. No date has yet been given for the implementation of the policy.

How do you feel about the impending ban of ESAs on board flights? Fair, or unfair? Let us know in the comments.

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HeloMech

It is about time. Emotional Support Animals is becoming an epidemic in the USA. The “certification” process is a joke. The majority of ESA owners just use the title to drag their mangy pets everywhere with them. You have to eat with them and walk around them in stores. Getting them off of planes is a blessing.

Danny Burns

It’s about time!

Flyer

There are people with severe PTSD problems. This affects vets, victims of abuse and other individuals. Taking away the support animals from the people who legitimately need them is awful.

How is this going to be taken into account, if at all?

Michael Lejcar

Only REAL service animals. The rest is a scam. Planes are crowded enough as it is. I know a therapist who gives out the certifications for emotional support animals to whoever asks.

Transworld

For 99.999% the term Emotional Support animal is a crock. Epidemic of flying abuse is the right one.

Nothing more than a me first thing, turning aircraft into flying zoos.

DOT is not banning emotional support animal, its taking stopping other passengers abusing their fellow passengers taking back the cabin to where it should be.

Terry Blocher

The proposed ban is much needed. I support the new ban

Na Ardri

Most of these animals are pets being taken on vacation using an excuse of being emotional support animals. Was on a flight last week and between the crying children and the so called support “pets” it was very trying to me. I understand the children but these animals are not children.

Fernando

It is about time the FAA and every governing body take action to ban “emotional support” pets. What did people do before this trend started, stay home? NO! they flew happily and perhaps had a drink on board. I love my pets but I will never impose my English Bulldog to people on an airplane.

IanFromHKG

I agree with the general theme that service animals should be allowed and ESAs should not. That last part might change if there was a proper licensing and training scheme for ESAs, but t doesn’t sound as though that is going to happen.

I do take issue with the implication that miniature horses are unsuitable, though (“we’re pretty sure miniature horses don’t fit very well in the footwell under a seat”). A couple of simple facts – service animals are hugely expensive to train; and miniature horses can live up to three times as long as a dog. The cost is reduced, the bond with the owner is maintained.

I would also like to see the definition of service animal expanded as there are many, properly trained, service animals that are neither dogs nor miniature horses. Capuchin monkeys, for instance, are extremely dexterous and can perform tasks that those with motor issues (particularly those involving fine motor skills) cannot do for themselves.

Frankly, the whole system needs review. Perhaps this is a good start – ensuring that properly trained service animals are permitted and untrained masquerading-as-ESAs-pets are not. But that review should include all mainstream service animals.

BTW I have no axe to grind here. I do not have or need a service animal or an ESA.

Bob Mulder

Make it a fast rule to only allow guide dogs in aircraft cabins

Joseph Lawson

BAN THEM

Nita

IMO at the VERY least dogs who are used as ESAs must pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen training (or equivalent) with their owners CGC – https://www.akc.org/products-services/training-programs/canine-good-citizen/what-is-canine-good-citizen/#faqs
I feel very strongly that most people abuse the ESA label though…. I love my dogs and would love to be able to take them everywhere with me but I won’t lie to do it!

Dave Holly

Most animals behave better than babies and children that kick your seatback!
Extend the ban then to that audience.

RPP

I think its a mistake to ban them, I agree that many people abuse the ESA but there is a reason why people abuse it. 1 paying to fly with a dog in cabin its ridiculously expensive (125$ per leg) and they sit under your chair, so not occupying extra space. taking your dog in cargo is not advisable as the conditions are terrible, there are no guarantees and is also very expensive. Also, if there are so many people wanting to travel with their dog its because many people see dogs as family. I think rather than banning, set a clear set of rules and if there are broken penalize people with fines and banning them to fly in the future, then they will think twice about letting their dog loose or do harm. Going against the tendency is not a solution so I really hope they come up with something more creative than banning…