Emotional Support Animals Adjust to New DOT Regulations in 2021

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Pretty much everybody likes dogs, right? Well, maybe not if they’re on an airplane and someone’s emotional support animal won’t stop barking. 

This problem is at the center of the issue that led to the Department of Transportation’s new regulations for ESAs and air travel. Airlines could have handled an increased volume of animals on planes, but not if those animals didn’t know how to behave themselves. As the number of incidents with ESAs rose and customer satisfaction fell, airlines put increasing pressure on the DOT to step in. A couple of years ago, they started investigating the matter; this resulted in brand-new rules for service animals and ESAs alike in January of 2021. 

By far the most significant change is the one regarding ESAs. Instead of accompanying their owners into the plane cabin, now they’ll have to observe whatever regulations the airline has for ordinary pets. Not only does this feel like a snub for ESAs, it could actually be a problem for the people who need their support animal in order to get onto the plane. 

While the changes that apply to ESAs are getting most of the attention, service animal owners have some new rules to observe as well. They mostly have to do with their animals’ size (they have to fit within the personal space of their owner), and how they’re restrained (with a leash or harness, unless this would get in the way of their normal tasks). One person can bring no more than two service animals, and they have to be dogs

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