dogs on a plane.jpg

Last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) ruled that when it comes to airline travel, emotional support animals are going to be considered pets—not service animals. 

Airlines will have the ability to be stricter about which animals are allowed to travel alongside passengers, and anyone carrying a service animal will need to provide the necessary paperwork at least 48 hours in advance. Psychiatric service dogs will be treated as individually trained service dogs, but owners will need to provide documentation that proves the animal is healthy, well-behaved and trained. 

The definite ruling, which will go into effect next month, has been controversial; some are praising the decision to put a line in the sand and be more definitive about what animals are allowed on planes alongside passengers. Others argue that this ruling is too strict, and that people who greatly benefit from an emotional support animal will be kept from having them during a potentially very stressful time.  

The American Kennel Club released a statement praising the DOT for its decision. 

"We are very pleased by the DOT's strong statement that recognizes the value of properly trained service dogs and the tasks they perform to mitigate an individual's disability," said Dennis Sprung, AKC president and CEO. "We also appreciate the clarification that service dogs come in many shapes and sizes, and that no properly trained, working service dog should be denied a flight because of its breed or appearance."   

The rule was specifically put in place to address the poorly trained service dogs and emotional support animals. There are always the select few that bring their “emotional support dogs” on planes that can cause havoc for the staff and the passengers, and may pose a danger to actual service dogs. 

Opponents of the ruling did raise valid concerns about how pet parents have had reason to be concerned about boarding pets in the past—given instances when pets have died in boarding. Some believe that this ruling did little address what space would be designated for pets in boarding areas, and how they are going to work to ensure pets are as protected as possible. 

Overall, the DOT believes that it’s doing its best to protect their passengers, crew, and valid service dogs that need to be on planes. It’s up to the airlines to enforce these rules to their own discretion.