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New Ruling Says Airlines No Longer Have to Treat ESAs As Service Animals

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What’s New: The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a ruling on Wednesday that airlines no longer have to treat emotional support animals as service animals. The ruling says airlines “are not required to recognize emotional support animals as service animals and may treat them as pets.” The new ruling also limits the definition of a service animal to dogs only. New regulations will go into effect 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, but it is unclear when this will happen.

The Frontlines: Mental health professionals can prescribe people emotional support animals to ease difficult symptoms in stressful places for those with mental health conditions and other disabilities. Unlike service animals, emotional support animals are not necessarily trained to perform tasks but there has been a push to recognize them similarly.

  • People have been allowed to travel with emotional support animals on aircraft due to protections under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
  • Airlines requested a review by the Department of Transportation because emotional support animals without adequate training had caused issues on flights.
  • Another concern was people who take advantage of the system, which causes issues for people with qualified service animals and emotional support animals.

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A Mighty Voice: Emotional support animals can help people manage their mental health. Contributor Taylin wrote about how crucial this was while at university. “Trust me: I would rather not need to have her to combat my mental health struggles. But, I also have no shame for admitting I need her help. I repeat: I would rather not need this form of therapy but I do in order to function. This is not simply a loophole to smuggle my pet on campus.” You can submit your first-person story, too.

From Our Community:

Major Depression and My Emotional Support Animal

Other Things to Know: People who live with chronic illnesses and mental health conditions have shared accessibility issues they faced while flying for as long as people could travel on planes. You can read about some of their experiences below:

How to Take Action: You can read the DOT’s full ruling on “Traveling by Air with Service animals” here.

Getty Image/Ryan Jello

Originally published: December 2, 2020
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