U.S. Updates Travel Policies for Service Animals

by Daine Taylor
U.S. Updates Travel Policies for Service Animals

The new service animal rules hit on a number of issues, such as species limitations, containment, advance notice, and check-in requirements. Photo: Shutterstock.com. 

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals that provides greater clarity to passengers, airlines, and other stakeholders about the DOT’s interpretation and enforcement of the existing service animal rules. 

The statement addresses a number of issues, such as species limitations, containment, advance notice, and check-in requirements for emotional support and psychiatric service animals. 

Some of these rules will directly affect airline policies that ban specific breeds of dogs, like Delta’s rule that bans “pit bull-type dogs” as service or support animals, a policy that went into effect in July 2018.

In the statement, the Department’s Enforcement Office also announced that it does not intend to take action against an airline for asking users of any type of service animal to provide documentation related to vaccination, training, or behavior, so long as it is reasonable to believe that the documentation would assist the airline in making a determination as to whether an animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. The Enforcement Office will monitor airlines’ animal documentation requirements to ensure that they are reasonable.

“The availability of fraudulent ESA credentials online has enabled people who are not truly in need of animal assistance to abuse the rules and evade airline policies regarding animals in the cabin. With over a million passengers bringing ESAs on flights last year, airlines and airports saw a sharp increase in incidents such as biting and mauling by untrained animals,” said the Airlines for America, the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, in a statement on the DOT's new enforcement.

The DOT statement also said: “The DOT's guidance is an important step toward addressing this growing problem and ensuring a safer and healthier travel experience for all. The Department remains committed to ensuring that our air transportation system is safe and accessible for everyone. As such, the Enforcement Office will focus its enforcement efforts on clear violations of the current rule and will continue to investigate all complaints alleging violations of the Air Carrier Access Act.”

The final statement can be found at regulations.gov, docket number DOT-OST-2018-0067.  Separately, the DOT said it plans to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Service Animals later this year.

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