DOT clarifies emotional support animal rules

Yesterday, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) issued guidance to help travelers understand their rights while new regulations are being developed. The DOT is currently developing new rules to govern what types of animals will be allowed to accompany passengers on flights and what documentation will be required to determine a passenger’s legitimate need.  The guidance document issued yesterday provides that airlines cannot limit the number of service animals on a flight, however, passengers with an animal that an airline deems too large, too heavy, or younger than four months of age are allowed to deny boarding.

Service animals are those that have been trained to perform certain functions.  Current law requires that reasonable accommodations be provided for those using service dogs.  In contrast, no training is required for emotional support animals.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) strongly supports public accommodations that allow individuals with disabilities to use service dogs.  The AKC also strongly condemns characterizing dogs as service animals when they are not, or attempting to benefit from a dog’s service dog status when the individual using the dog is not a person with a disability.

Click here to read AKC’s July 2018 comments to the Department of Transportation regarding proposed rulemaking for service dogs.

The guidance provides:

  • In agreement with AKC’s breed-neutral policies, as expressed in our comment to DOT, airlines are not allowed to ban certain breeds of service animals. Any airline can prevent any specific animal from flying if it is determined to pose a health or safety threat.
  • To enable an airline to determine whether an animal poses a health or safety threat, airlines can require reasonable documentation related to an animal’s training, behavior, and vaccinations received.
  • As required under current rules, airlines are not required to transport emotional support animals unless the passenger provides medical documentation of their need.
  • Passengers who plan to travel with emotional support animals must give airlines advance notice.
  • Airlines are permitted to require passengers with animals on flights eight hours or longer in length to provide documentation or proof that an animal will not need to relieve itself or can relieve itself in a way that will not create a sanitation issue.
  • Airlines cannot limit the number of service animals on a flight. Similarly, passengers can bring up to three service animals on a flight.
  • Airlines are not required to accept exotic animals on a flight.

Airlines now have 30 days to revise their operations to meet these current requirements.

This latest clarification comes after the number of animals traveling with passengers in cabin has significantly increased since 2016, in large part due to the number of emotional support animals that accompany passengers.  Media reports have detailed an increasing number of bite incidents involving emotional support animals.  For example, in July a flight attendant had to receive stitches after she was bitten by an emotional support dog.

Read Misuse of Service Dogs Hurts the Disabled and Responsible Dog Owners.

AKC’s Government Relations Department recently redesigned and continues to update its Regulatory Resource Center, which provides information on regulatory proposals and requirements from both the federal and state governments.  For more information, access the Regulatory Resource Center at, or contact AKC Government Relations at

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