If you’ve been planning on taking your service animal on vacation with you in 2019, you may need to readjust your expectations. Due to the myriad of complaints and negative publicity that service and emotional support animals received in 2018, airlines are really cracking down on allowing them on-board future flights. If you have an animal that provides support to you and you’re wondering how the rules have changed, we’re here to clear up any confusion with our guide to airline’s rules to service animals.
Service animal vs. emotional support pet – and why is the distinction important?
The confusion between what constitutes a legitimate service dog versus an emotional support animal has made it very difficult for airports and airlines to put proper rules into place. Federal regulations are also a bit cloudy, causing loopholes which can lead to abuse from pet owners just wanting to scam the system. Despite the Americans With Disabilities Act’s definition of an animal that is “specifically trained to do work or a task for people with disabilities” (such as guide dogs for the blind,) the Air Carrier Access Act is much more lenient in their definition. This leniency has been allowing people to pass off their family pet as a support animal when they sometimes just don’t want the animals to be boarded in the cargo hold.
In order to protect those who truly need their service animals, many agencies are currently fighting to get both definitions of a service animal to be one and the same so that only those who are performing a task for an owner with a disability will be able to board flights. Legally and ethically, this is the most fair to those who truly need their animal because the abuse is continuing to negatively affect people with true disabilities (like blindness or seizure disorders) in two possible ways. One: there are only so many animals allowed in the airline cabin on any given flight. If too many “emotional support animals” are already booked, it could displace someone who needs their service dog for mobility or safety. Two: untrained pets are not equipped to deal with the stress of traveling, making them prone to acting out like biting, snarling or having bathroom accidents. If one of these stressed, untrained dogs bites a trained service dog, it could traumatize the service dog rendering them incapable of performing their job, costing thousands of dollars and lots of heartache for that person.
How are airlines finally cracking down on the fraud?
While the Department of Transportation is waiting to change their definition, people are still able to claim just about any animal as an “emotional support” animal, but as a courtesy to true service animals, they should be housed in carriers while in the airport and in the plane’s cabin. A few of the largest airlines like United and American Airlines are taking matters into their own hands, though, and are now requiring a veterinarian-signed certificate that states that the dog is in good health and current on vaccinations as well as written proof that a dog is capable of behaving in public. And, other airlines like Delta are banning certain breeds entirely from flying in the cabin with other passengers after a few incidents of pit bull attacks last year.