The issue has been hotly debated. Officials received more than 15,000 comments on The proposed base After it was released last January. The rule was completed last month and went into effect January 11th.
Federal officials said the goal is to ensure safe and easy travel. Others say they hope the change will put in place a system that threatens to undermine the credibility of those who travel with legitimate service animals.
The United States Department of Transportation now defines a service animal as a dog “that has been individually trained to perform work or tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including physical, sensory, psychological, intellectual, or other intellectual disability.”
The new rules limit the number of service animals a person may travel with to two and require individuals to present papers detailing their animal behavior, training, and health status before they travel.
American Airlines, which outlined its new policy on Tuesday, said it will stop accepting emotional support animals. The airline said animals that previously traveled as emotional support animals may still accompany passengers as carried or cargo animals if they meet requirements.
American said customers traveling with service animals must fill out a special form attesting to the dog’s behavior, training and health 48 hours before their flight, unless the reservation is booked within 48 hours. This permission is valid for a year or until the expiration of his vaccinations.
“We are confident that this approach will enable us to provide better service to our customers, especially those with disabilities who travel with service animals, and better protection for our team members in the airport and on board,” Jessica Tyler, US President of Shipping and Vice President of Airport Excellence, at An accompanying statement to the new policy.
Alaska Airlines announced similar changes last week. The airline said it will continue to accept emotional support animals for reservations made prior to January 11 for travel until February 28. After that, emotional support animals will no longer be permitted.
“This regulatory change is welcome news, as it will help us reduce disruptions on board while still accommodating our guests traveling with qualified service animals,” said Ray Prentice, Director of Customer Support at Alaska Airlines.
Other airlines, including Delta and Southwest, have said they are updating their policies but welcome the changes.
“This rule will allow airlines to put safety first for all of our customers and our employees, while protecting the rights of customers who have disabilities and need to travel with trained service animals,” said Adrian Gee, a spokesman for Delta Air Lines. “We are currently reviewing the new rule and will continue to work with the Delta Disability Advisory Board to implement it in a way that improves the experience for all of our clients.”
With the expansion of the definition of what was considered a service animal to include animals that travelers said needed for emotional and psychological support, there was a sharp increase in the number and variety of creatures in passenger cabins. The altitude sometimes sparked conflict between passengers and between passengers and crew.
There were also reports of animals attacking the passengers and crew, as well as animals that had defecated in the passenger compartment. Some have questioned the legality of such animals because, unlike other service animals, many emotional support animals have not been trained.
The Department of Transportation first attempted to define what should be considered service animals in 2016 through the Accessible Air Transport Advisory Committee, but the group was unable to determine which species should be allowed.
Ultimately, administration officials said they limited identification to dogs because the vast majority of service animals are dogs.