As of a December 2020 rule change, airlines will impose different rules on emotional support animals. These airlines will no longer automatically approve animals that might have normally been allowed to fly. As a passenger, you may not have even been aware of the policy, let alone the adjustment. We’ll get you up to speed on both and let you know what the policy change means for travel with emotional support animals.


Emotional Support Animals on Planes 

You’ve likely heard about emotional support animals before. In fact, you’ve probably seen one on a flight. While most associate them with dogs or the occasional cat, emotional support animals can be any animal. Here is where problems arise for airlines. Before the December 2020 policy change, airlines allowed most emotional support animals on flights for free to accompany their humans. This meant that airlines allowed pigs, birds, or any other animal an person owners claimed as emotional support to board. If you think that sounds made up, take a look at this example of a woman who tried to board with her peacock. This clearly was a recurring problem, and airlines spent time and money asking the Department of Transportation to change national policy.

Emotional support animals are not the same as service animals. Service animals are trained to assist owners with challenges caused by a disability. Service animals are allowed to travel with their human at no cost, without question. However, the inclusion of emotional support animals, in all their forms, as service animals allowed untrained animals on planes. Considering the two types of animals as one left airlines without concrete policy grounds for denying certain animals.


The New Emotional Support Animal Policy         

Here are some key highlights of the differences. The core of the policy update is that the Department of Transportation considers emotional support animals as pets, no longer as service animals. A secondary change is that service animals can only be dogs. The ADA had already defined service animals as trained dogs, so the airlines are now consistent with their definition.

This new rule will impact groups differently. For airlines, this will largely impact which animals can fly and how they charge animals flying. They can more readily prevent untrained animals from flying without being held to the same rules as normal pets. Those flying with service dogs will not be impacted as they still maintain the right to fly with their animal. The passengers who once were able to travel with their emotional support animals will face the most change, as it is no longer guaranteed that their animal can fly with them.

For most airlines, the policy is a good thing. They hope that this change will improve the flying experience for those who dislike animals on planes. This policy restores the essential function of trained service animals for their owner. This can translate to greater legitimacy for the work of service animals. People who were once able to fly with their emotional support animal may be frustrated with the change, but that is to be expected. As a result, this update is bound to have mixed opinions.