In the waning days of the Trump Administration, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has finalized regulations that end protections for people seeking to fly with emotional support animals on airlines. Moreover, dogs will be the only species of service animal that will be officially allowed on flights.
The finalized regulations, issued December 2, differ little from the DOT’s proposed regulations from March 2020, which were prompted by an increases in consumer complaints about people with disabilities flying with animals. Some airlines, such as Delta, had banned pit bulls, amid other restrictions that appeared to conflict with the protections of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
The ACAA, which pre-dates the Americans with Disabilities Act, governs disability discrimination law for airlines. The ACAA distinguishes between service animals—animals trained to perform specific tasks—and emotional support animals. The new regulations change how the ACAA treats animals on flights in fundamental ways.
The ACAA now provides legal protection only for people seeking the assistance of service animals (animals designed to perform service tasks), as opposed to emotional supports animals (animals without formal training that nonetheless benefit numerous people with disabilities by reducing anxiety, depression, and related conditions).
Furthermore, the new ACAA regulations state that people with disabilities can fly only with dogs, contradicting prior regulations and the DOT’s September 2019 guidance, which also permitted people to fly with cats and miniature horses if they met the definitions of service or emotional support animals.
However, airlines may no longer categorically prohibit certain types of dogs. For example, an airline could not bar a flyer’s pit bull if it met the definition of a service animal. Airlines are also now prohibited from creating onerous new paperwork requirements for people seeking to fly with a psychiatric service animal, as opposed to any other service animal.
In a small victory for those with disabilities, DOT dropped a requirement in the proposed regulations that passengers with service animals must check in an hour prior to the travel time required for the general public, although airlines may still request documentary proof that the dog has been trained as a service animal as much as 48 hours before the date of travel.
The rules go into effect 30 days after their publication in the Federal Register. Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Congress can overturn regulations within 60 days. Although previously used sparingly, the Republican Congress made frequent use of the CRA in 2017 to overturn regulations finalized at the end of the Obama Administration. If Democrats win both Senate races in the January 5 run-off elections in Georgia, they will control the Senate and thus may similarly overturn regulations issued during the end of the Trump Administration.
Click here to read a Frequently Asked Questions document from the DOT about the new regulations.
Click here to read the full regulations.