The Department of Transportation announced Wednesday it will revise rules around flying with emotional support animals and will no longer consider them to be service animals, which are required by law to be allowed to fly with passengers on commercial airlines.
The revised Air Carrier Access Act rules define 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," according to a release from the U.S. DOT.
The DOT notes it no longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal, paving the way for airlines to ban them if they don't fit established rules about pets.
Policies will be set by individual airlines but must conform to the DOT rules, which will go into effect 30 days after the final ruling is published in the Federal Register, though that date has not yet been announced.
The changes are a departure from the previous DOT guidance issued last year, which said that airlines could not restrict passengers from traveling with emotional support animals, nor could they ban a specific breed or species of support animal.
Airlines are currently prohibited from refusing service dogs based on their breed, and that prohibition will continue under the new rules.
Airlines have also questioned whether some passengers may be trying to pass off their pets as support animals – be they cats, rabbits or birds, among others – in order to avoid paying the associated fees.
The new DOT rule will allow airlines to require people flying with a service animal to fill out a form up to 48 hours in advance of travel. They'll also be allowed to require a service animal to fit within its handler's foot space on the plane, which could be problematic for larger service animals.
"Airlines are committed to promoting accessibility for passengers with disabilities and ensuring their safe travel. The Department of Transportation’s final rule will protect the traveling public and airline crew members from untrained animals in the cabin, as well as improve air travel accessibility for passengers with disabilities that travel with trained service dogs,” Airlines for America president and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement in support of the new rules.
The DOT sought public comment on the proposed policy early this year and got more than 15,000 comments.
Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional support animals in airline cabins. And when DOT proposed the rule change in January, disability advocates and airline personnel alike were in favor.
“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, at the time. He said some people “want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them.”
Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, and they too were in favor of the rule.
“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. She said some of her union’s members were hurt by untrained pets.
Contributing: Curtis Tate, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Service animal flying rule: DOT rules out emotional support animals