Emotional support animals have long been a source of confusion and anxiety for passengers worldwide — and now there’s one less of them. On Friday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that it had amended regulations to clarify what it means to be an emotional support animal.
For the uninitiated, most airline regulations forbid carrying larger animals into aircraft, which means that’s who some passengers might pick when they travel. But the DOT’s announcement makes clear that emotional support animals are defined as animals that are trained for certain tasks: “[b]ecause these animals cannot require their own bags or crates, they can be transported in carry-on bags.” While those animals will also now be granted a place on a plane’s first class floor, those passengers will still have to check the animal in advance, and there will be a fee attached for bringing their pet on board the plane. While some emotional support animals are so reliable, “the Department is still concerned that some passengers may falsely claim to have a trained animal to avoid dealing with difficult people or expressing different views.”
The changes come just weeks after American Airlines said that the largest majority of flights will be free for passengers with emotional support animals by the end of the year. In April, Hawaiian Airlines became the first major U.S. carrier to welcome these creatures onboard for free. “Most of the emotional support animals were coming on (Flights) at 60 to 80 percent of their non-voluntary capacity,” said John L. Laughter, the executive vice president of customer experience for Hawaiian Airlines, at the time. “We looked at ourselves and said, you know what, if we really want to support customers, it’s not really right to continue to force them to leave their seats.”
More details about how exactly American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are going to allow free travel for emotional support animals on their airlines will be revealed on Monday morning.
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