Airlines permitted to ask for medical documentation for emotional support animals

AFAR has reported airlines can now ask for medical documentation proving the passenger´s need for an emotional support animal and can deny access to animals that are seen as a threat, however they cannot ban specific breeds of pets, AFAR said.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) issued new guidelines that distinguished between what is allowable for passengers traveling with trained service animals compared to those who are traveling with emotional support animals.

Airlines are allowed to ask questions to determine the passenger´s need for the animal if the passengers disability is not clear. Airlines are not required to transport emotional or psychiatric support animals unless the passenger provides medical documentation of the need for the animal.

Additionally, while airlines can´t require that passengers traveling with service animals inform them in advance that they will have a service animal with them, those traveling with emotional and psychiatric support animals do need to let the airline know ahead of time.

Airlines are also allowed to require emotional and psychiatric support animal users to check in one hour before the general public check-in time. The rules are effective immediately.

A service animal is defined as an animal that has been trained to perform specific tasks for an individual with a disability. An emotional support animal is intended to provide comfort and support to someone with an emotional or psychological disability.

The DOT noted it plans to keep several protections in place for people traveling with service as well as emotional support animals.

With regards to service animals, the federal agency stated that while it will permit airlines to require owners to show proof of vaccinations, training, and behavior to determine whether the animal poses a threat to other passengers, it also plans to monitor those documentation requirements to ensure that they are not being used to restrict passengers with disabilities from traveling with their service animals.

The DOT also stated priority will be placed on ensuring that the most commonly recognized service animals–dogs, cats and miniature horses–are allowed to travel. Airlines will not be allowed to refuse to transport an animal based exclusively on its breed.

A carrier can deny access to a service animal that is too large or too heavy to be accommodated, and the DOT said it would not view it as a violation for an airline to prohibit the transport of service animals younger than four months, as some airlines have done.

Airlines are allowed to ask passengers using a service animal on flights of eight hours or longer to provide documentation that the animal will not need to relieve itself on the flight or that it can do so in a way that does not create a health or sanitation issue.