A recent ruling by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) states that airlines cannot ban specific breeds of dogs on board their planes. This is a definite victory for individuals who bring ESAs on flights for support. Because some of the federal regulations have been confusing in the past, certain airlines have put restrictions in place to protect their passengers. However, many ESA owners were outraged that their breed of dog wouldn’t be allowed on board with them. So, the Dept. of Transportation and ESAs have finally reached a more steadfast arrangement that will allow all emotional support animal owners protections under the law.
Towards the end of 2019, the DOT will begin enforcing guidelines that allow all breeds of dogs on airplanes. Airlines can still exert restrictions on other species of animals (such as banning exotic animals like hedgehogs, goats, ferrets, snakes, etc.), but every breed of dog will be deemed acceptable. The DOT has stated: “While the Enforcement Office is aware of high-profile cases involving pit bulls, airlines have not presented evidence that any particular breed is inherently more dangerous than others.”
Airlines have tried to control the increasing number of ESAs that people are bringing on board their aircraft. One airline has reported a significant increase of 75% more ESAs on board in 2017 compared with 2016. In fact, an organization called Airlines for America (a trade group for the largest carriers in the U.S.) has noted that over a million people brought ESAs on board in 2018. Part of the increase has been due to more people learning about the benefits of ESAs, but there have also been many individuals who are using ESA flight laws to travel with their pets in order to avoid paying additional charges (ESAs can fly with their owner at no cost). Because there are some people who have been abusing the privilege of having their pet fly with them, there has also been a jump in incidents of animals misbehaving during flights (having accidents on the plane, barking, etc.). There have even been events of supposed ESAs who have become violent. The pit bull ban was instituted because of a passenger being mauled by a 50-pound dog in 2017 and a flight attendant being bitten on the hand this past summer.
Despite the misuse of ESA laws by some individuals, airlines still recognize that there are many people who have a genuine need for a support animal. So, the DOT has put restrictions in place to protect all passengers. They’ve authorized airlines to require passengers to provide records of vaccinations and training to ensure that animals are never a threat during a flight. Airlines can mandate that these records be presented up to 48 hours before a flight’s departure. At this point in time, each airline has different distinct requirements for ESA travel, so passengers should consult their specific airline’s website before they fly to make sure they’re complying with the regulations. But it will be a relief for ESA owners to know that they won’t be banned from a flight just for having a pit bull or any other misunderstood breed.
So, if you’re wondering “Can I take my ESA on a flight?”, the answer is yes. In order to make sure you’re on the right side of the law, check the airline you’re flying with to see what their specific restrictions are. Most airlines do require a letter from a mental health professional that states your need for an ESA and verifies that your ESA is legitimate. Some airlines require you to sign an Animal Behavior Form, which verifies that your animal has been trained to behave well in a public setting, as well as a Veterinary Health Form signed by a licensed veterinarian that states that your ESA is in good health and is up to date with its shots and vaccinations. Typically, an airline does still reserve the right to refuse your ESA access to the plane if they’re causing any kind of disruption or incidences with other passengers (or if they’re considered a direct threat to the health or safety of other passengers). To be sure you have all the necessary paperwork, head to the airline’s website for more information well before you’re set to board (in order to give yourself time in advance to get any records that might be required). As long as you have a legitimate reason to have an ESA, the appropriate records, and a well-behaved animal, you shouldn’t face any problems when flying.
If you’re considering getting an ESA to help with your fear of flying, there are a number of breeds that work well as support companions. Smaller breeds (such as a Bichon Frise or Maltese) are great to travel with because they can easily fit in a crate under the seat in front of you or in your lap during the flight. Larger dog breeds like Golden Retrievers or Labradors might be a little harder to travel with because of their size, but they can still serve as a comforting, safe presence during your travels. Because of the new ruling with the Department of Transportation and emotional support animals, you don’t have to worry that a specific breed will be banned from flights. So, if you really feel like a pit bull will be the most beneficial breed to you, go ahead and get one. Then you can travel at ease, knowing you have your loyal emotional support animal by your side during your flight.