In a thunderous ruling today, the Department of Transportation (DOT) effectively slammed the door on a free-wheeling era when snakes soared through the troposphere: emotional support animals no longer qualify as service animals. Period. End of the line. No. No, I said.
Admit it, y’all got sloppy. Airlines had to make up rules forbidding all manner of wildlife (squirrels, peacocks, snakes, kangaroos) for a reason. Out of 15,000 comments DOT reportedly received, the roughly 9,000 supporters of the new rule—including disability rights advocates, airline industry reps, a veterinary association—complained that emotional support animals had bitten passengers, peed/defecated on the flight, or attacked legitimate service animals. Some liars even copped counterfeit service animal vests off the internet, if you can believe it! (You were not fooling anyone with that shit. You brought this on yourself.)
The DOT ruled that emotional support animals will no longer bear the service animal designation and are now considered pets, relegated to carry-on luggage at best and cargo at worst. They allow airlines to impose strict limits: dogs only, limit of two dogs per passenger, and only dogs that fit in foot space. Airlines can potentially require DOT forms that attest to the dog’s health and ability to go to the bathroom “in a sanitary manner.” A DOT spokesperson noted in an email to Gizmodo that lying on such documents would be a federal crime.
They note that miniature horses and capuchin monkeys, which are also used as service animals, may be allowed if the airline approves, though they do not get an automatic pass.
The decision emerged from what sounds like a heated debate. “The Department recognizes that whether to require airlines to recognize emotional support animals as service animals is a contentious question,” the rule reads, “with strongly held views on all sides, and with no perfect solution.”
As the DOT notes, many of the 6,000 commenters against the rule took issue with the “task-trained” designation. In accordance with the new rule, “psychiatric” service animals must still be treated as service animals, though it’s unclear whether simply being present and calming people is a “task,” which is fuzzily defined as “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.” We’ve asked for clarification and will update the post if we hear back.
What we learned: don’t toy with airplane rules unless you’re prepared for the iron fist of the Department of Transportation. Millennials can only look back now, and reminisce to our children about the wild times when iguanas roamed the cabins of 747s.