Contributed by Lori Hickey, an American expat living in Rome, Italy. Lori is a Community Outreach & Relocation Consultant to Bliss Corporation.
As of Jan. 2021, U.S. air carriers are no longer obligated to recognize emotional-support animals (ESAs) as ‘service animals’
The U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s (DoT) latest update to regulations for animals traveling with U.S. air carriers, referred to as the Final Rule, has narrowed the definition of “service animal”: the new definition for ‘service animal’ is a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Service dogs, such as guide dogs, commonly have completed at least 120 hours of training over the course of 6 months, including 30 hours spent in public settings.
Two impacts of the Final Rule will be that:
- Airlines are now permitted to limit service animals to dogs.
- Airlines are now permitted to recognize dogs, cats, and ferrets other than service animals, as regular pets. The requirement to recognize ESAs’ has been eliminated.
Delta, United, American, Alaska, JetBlue, and Southwest, have already announced they will no longer recognize ESA’s. More airlines are expected to follow suit.
The ‘Final Rule’ permits only well-behaving service dogs to fly in the main cabin, free of charge, if the dog is leashed or tethered at all times, and fits in the assigned foot space or lap of the accompanying handler. Otherwise, the airline must offer to fly the service dog, always free of charge, as ‘pet cargo’, or rearrange the travel on a later flight when more space may be available.
Pets, on the other hand, remain subject to the airlines’ relevant carriage fees and travel policies, which vary greatly among carriers. Small pets may still be welcome to travel in the main cabin providing the pet remains inside its properly-sized and airline-approved carrier, fitting neatly into the companion’s foot space or under the seat, and not encroaching on other passengers. But not for free.
On many international flights, pets are required to travel as cargo, to comply with the arrival country’s customs regulations. Most airlines don’t permit pets to travel in the main cabin on flights longer than 12 hours, for their own comfort and safety.
The ‘Final Rule’ is intended to ensure the USA’s air transportation system is safe for the traveling public, pets, and usable to individuals with disabilities.
How did we arrive here?
Pet travel trends have been climbing globally over the past decades, reflecting profound ongoing social transformations favoring pet ownership. More and more families are traveling with their furry friends.
Around 70 million American families own pets. The demand for ‘pawsenger’ flight accommodations has been escalating and challenging. Preceding the pandemic crisis and ensuing flight restrictions, more than two million pets and other live animals were being transported by air every year in the United States. Over the last decade, U.S. carriers saw a 19% increase in pet travel.
Over a third of American pet owners now say they simply won’t travel without their furry friends.
How will the fur fly? Click here to learn more.
Which are the pet-friendliest airlines?
This answer depends on innumerable and very specific things. When it comes to animal travel, the safest way to be sure you’re in the best of hands is to work with pet travel professionals, particularly when pets are not allowed to fly in-cabin. Oftentimes it’s required by most airlines, especially for international travel.
A pet air travel specialist helps support you in preparing your loved one for the journey, and determine the best airline, aircraft, routing, and itinerary for her ultimate comfort and safety. Through a sophisticated network, they’re able to follow your pet every step of the way and offer you true peace of mind.
Pets are part of the family. Safe mobility and peace of mind will surely remain the top priorities for America’s pet-mania society, as it tiptoes forward to secure their cherished lifestyle – post Final Rule.