• New DOT guidelines allow airlines to ban emotional support animals
  • Airlines may also require forms 48 hours before a flight, and service animals must be leashed and fit in a passenger's footspace
  • Airlines and disability rights groups approved of the change, suspicious that people were taking advantage of the old rules to sneak untrained pets onto planes

The Department of Transportation has released revised guidelines around what service animals are allowed on flights, curtailing its previous permissive rules. Airlines will now be permitted to ban emotional support animals and larger service animals.

The new rules don’t explicitly ban emotional support animals but clarify that they are not considered by the DOT to be true service animals. Here are some of the most significant revisions:

  • “Service animal” is now defined as a “dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability”
  • Emotional support animals are no longer considered service animals
  • Airlines can require forms proving the animal is healthy and well-trained, provided up to 48 hours before the flight
  • Service animals are required to be leashed at all times and must fit in the passenger’s foot space

While airlines still cannot ban specific dog breeds, they may ban specific animals or non-dog animal breeds, USA Today reports. The rules beyond the minimum set by the DOT are now up to individual airlines to decide.

Service Dog Valor
Service dog Valor at Build Studio on Nov. 5, 2019 in New York City. Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Many groups, including advocacy groups for disabled people, that rely on service animals, hailed the changes as a positive step. Regular stories of people bringing large or disruptive animals onto flights prompted concerns that the rules were being taken advantage of.

“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals,” Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, a disability advocacy group, told USA Today. “[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.”

Airlines were also relieved, especially the flight attendants that have to personally deal with fringe cases of disruptive animals. Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said some union members had been injured by untrained pets.

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