Today, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) announced final revisions to its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulations that concern the transportation of service animals. The new finalized rules, which will be effective in January, are intended to ensure that America’s air transportation system is safe for the travelling public and accessible to individuals with disabilities, and address concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.
The final rule defines a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. This change in definition significantly aligns DOT’s definition of “service animal” with the definition that the Department of Justice uses under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The changes also clarify that emotional support animals (ESAs), comfort animals, companionship animals, animals being trained to be service animals, and species other than dogs are not considered to be “service animals” under the new DOT definition. Instead, airlines may recognize and accommodate emotional support animals as pets. Many commenters, including airline industry stakeholder groups, disability rights advocacy organizations, and animal interest groups, including the American Kennel Club (AKC), cited safety concerns with the previous recognition of ESAs as service animals, including the growing trend of individuals misrepresenting their pets as service animals and the number of online mental health professionals willing to provide pet owners with emotional support animal and psychiatric service animal documentation in exchange for a fee.
The DOT rules also continue to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport a service animal solely based on breed. Airlines may continue to assess each animal individually to determine whether it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.
In keeping with our policy on the Misuse of Service Dogs, the AKC submitted comment in April 2020 that expressed support for the proposed definition of “service animal” and reiterated strong support for public accommodation that allows individuals with disabilities to use service dogs without regard to the dog’s size, phenotype, or breed. Likewise, our comments condemned actions that fraudulently misrepresent a dog as a service animal when it is not, or attempt to benefit from a dog’s service dog status when the individual using the dog is not a person with a disability.
AKC’s Government Relations Department (AKC GR) has begun analyzing the extensive provisions and DOT-supplied discussion and justifications of the newly-finalized rule, and will provide detailed information to stakeholders once that analysis has been completed.
For more information, contact AKC GR at firstname.lastname@example.org.