DOT Limits Definition Of ‘Service Animals’ To Trained Dogs


The Department of Transportation has cleared the air somewhat on how airlines may decide which animals can travel in the cabin with their owners, and flight crews are breathing easier. Last week the DOT essentially rid the already-cramped aluminum tubes of “emotional support” animals, which have heretofore been limited only by the imaginations and temerity of their owners. From ponies to peacocks, flight crews have seen them all, and from now on the definition of “service animal” will specify “dogs that are trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” What that means is that dogs that have the credentials can lie at their owners’ feet while everything else is a “pet” that has to fit in a crate under the seat or travel in the hold. Airlines have the final say on what “pets” they’ll allow. 

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants Association sighed in relief. “In recent years, our members have experienced firsthand the surge of untrained and sometimes even wild animals brought onboard under false certifications,” the union said in a news release. “Far too often, flight attendants have been intimidated, bitten, and required medical attention. We are frequently left to deal with behavioral issues, including urination, defecation, barking, and animals becoming loose in the cabin.”

For some humans, however, the rule change doesn’t go quite far enough. Regardless of how well behaved their canine cohorts in the cabin are, those with severe asthma and allergies can be imperiled by their proximity. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America lobbied DOT to take this opportunity to compel airlines to take its members’ plight into consideration. “We would still like to see a rule change to accommodate passengers with allergies or asthma who need distance from animals,” said AAFA President Kenneth Menendez. “For some people with asthma and allergies, traveling in a confined space with animals could trigger a life-threatening attack,” said Jenna Riemenschneider, the group’s director of advocacy.

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  1. This is long overdue. I’ve had all manner of flying menageries on board my flights including two dogs getting into a fight in the aisle which then promted the owners to fight which resulted in us calling for the the cops to meet us on the jetway to sort out the owners. I’ve seen pet owners stand idly by whilst their “emotional support” pets crapped on the floor, thus prompting unsupported emotions from other pax (and our cabin cleaning crews).
    Why do some people have to be so selfish?

  2. Finally. An end to the narcissistic, self centered, idiots who make life difficult for others and then complain that the world is unfair and that they have the “right” to lie and attack others! Hmmmm…sounds like someone we all know! (and this person’s self promoting supporters).

  3. Hi Aaron. When I wrote, “sounds like someone we know”, I was implying that most people have encountered someone behaving selfishly. Maybe it’s an acquaintance or someone at work— someone who “games” the system, and who may even have a coterie of supporters.

    When individuals “game” existing systems for personal benefit, legitimate users are denied the benefits of that system. In the case of bringing an illegitimate animal into the confines of a flight, pax suffer the loss of tranquility, comfort, and in some instances, personal safety.

    Societies best operate when all citizens’ respect the welfare of all others. History is littered with societies that have failed because selfish behavior became normative.

    My concern is that this sort of selfish behavior—which has always existed—has become more accepted in our society. I think that this is because of two factors. First, the advent of social media which promotes behavior based on “fast” emotional thinking rather than “slow” analytical thinking. Second, the evolution of social standards toward permitting impulsive behaviors to become more prevalent, for example, the use of certain “swear” words.

    Aviators, in particular, strive for personal responsibility, analytical or “slow” thinking, and honest assessment, knowing that to behave otherwise severely increases the possibility of immediate injury and death.

    Hence, I felt relieved to learn that DOT restored standards that encourage honesty and respect for others. I optimistically took this action as an indication that our society is moving more toward promoting honesty and concern for the welfare of others.

  4. While I have no problem with restrictions on “emotional support animals,” that’s a “seeing eye” horse in the photo. Miniature horses are trained and certified the same as dogs to assist the blind. A horse serving the same role as a dog for a blind person should be afforded the same privileges.

    • That seeing eye horse is huge and unable to lie at his owners feet. Do the blind, pooper scoop their seeing eye horses? What advantage does a seeing eye horse have over a dog, that the flying public put up with the inconvenience it causes?

    • The whole conversation stops at safety. And no Horse, Great Dane, German Shepherd or equivalent passes that test in an airplane. I was at the scene immediately after a Bonanza landed hard and lost its nosewheel. I was able to help the elderly pilot from the cockpit but could not help his wife who was sitting in the back of an airplane leaning forward on a 30 degree angle with the passenger door now 6 feet off the ground. Their German Shepherd made it clear that he would eat me first. Good thing there was no fire. Similarly, a large animal -or any animal- on an airliner during an emergency evacuation would likely be very much in the way. BTW I love dogs.

  5. I applaud the DOT redefining service animals to exclude emotional support animals. This bans peacocks, parrots, skunks, porcupines, lions, tigers and bears to name a few of people’s favorite things to take on board commercial aircraft. Virtually every passenger applauds the fact that animals defecting and urinating presents a health hazard. By limiting service animals to dogs then an additional stipulation should be made – dogs wearing diapers. This should prevent accidents while the owner is forced to clean up with additional diapers. If astronauts wear diapers in certain space walks of long duration then diapers can be made for dogs too.

  6. The Asthma folks have a legitimate concern. But service animals (dogs and the occasional pony) do have a special place that is protected by law. Emotional support animals don’t have that status. Frankly, the conflict between the Asthma folks and the service dog folks is difficult to resolve.

    DOT did not redefine “service animals”. They are limiting animals in the cabin to actual “service animals” where they did not before.

    • That is my take on this. The DOT appears to be saying that emotional support animals will no longer be allowed unless they can fit in a cage beneath the seat, and service animals must be dogs specifically trained and certified for that task. In order to function as a service animal, the dog must be fairly large, thus generally German Shepherds, retrievers or similar breeds. Not many chihuahuas are certified support dogs. Emotional support animals are a whole different situation. Although I know people who rely on a pet of some sort for emotional support, I have always felt that taking the pet on an airplane is a bogus concept unless it can fit in a pet carrier under the seat. Having a peacock in your lap on a flight is just dumb and inconsiderate, not to mention dangerous.