How the New DOT Regulations Will Impact ESAs in 2021: Your Top 9 Questions Answered

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By: CertaPet Staff Updated: September 15, 2021

On December 10, 2020, the United States Department of Transportation published a new law in the Federal Register. This law issues new guidelines to airlines where it concerns Emotional Support Animals.

Let’s dive into the top questions people have raised around this new ruling, what ESA owners need to know, and what 2021 will look like for those traveling with an Emotional Support Animal.

 

What is the Department of Transportation?

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) is a federal Cabinet department of the U.S. government. This department focuses entirely on ensuring safe and efficient transportation within the U.S.

There are many administrations under the DOT, including the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration.

 

What does the new law say?

You can view the full details of the published law on the Federal Register’s site here.

Essentially, it “defines a service animal as a dog…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.”

However, this new law also “allows airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than service animals.”

Continue reading for more information about this new regulation and CertaPet’s stance on discrimination against those with disabilities.

 

Why was this new regulation created?

Airlines have been applying pressure on the DOT to curb the increasing number of ESAs on commercial flights, and after $20 million in lobbying this year, these airlines succeeded.

The move was in part a response to years of reported incidents where untrained and/or misbehaved Emotional Support Animals jeopardized the safety of passengers. The new regulation was also a means to cut down on fraudulent ESA letters and curb those passing off a mere pet as a therapy animal.

However, Prairie Conlon, the world’s leading expert on Emotional Support Animals has this to say: “We understand that there have been incidents that have discredited emotional support animals and the service they provide, but those situations could be prevented by increased regulation. This proposed rule is a step in the right direction, [but] the aim may be a little off. Emotional support animals as part of a treatment plan have been utilized for decades [and] are not anything new. They have just recently gained attention in the last several years due to several things: the increase in ESAs as our society looks for alternative non-invasive therapies such as yoga and meditation, the charade of bizarre and exotic animals people are claiming are ESAs, and the lack of regulations on online companies popping up and selling rubber-stamped ESA letters. Eliminating emotional support animals altogether is a quick, cheap fix that disregards those who really need and use the treatment appropriately.”

department of transportation and emotional support animals

 

Who does the regulation impact?

The newly published law will impact those who use an Emotional Support Animal as part of their treatment plan in dealing with a mental or emotional disability and who normally travel with their ESA.

However, while the DOT allows airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than as assistance animals, it’s ultimately up to each individual airline to make a final decision on where they stand. Below are some of the airlines that will no longer recognize emotional support animals as assistance animals, along with the dates when these decisions will go into effect. If you need to travel with your comfort animal, these airlines will now require that you pay a pet fee. 

emotional support animal bans on airlines

If you’re unsure about your airline of choice’s stance on ESAs, be sure to visit their website or contact their customer service department for the most up-to-date information available.

 

Isn’t this considered discrimination?

Emotional Support Animals are prescribed for a variety of reasons, including anxiety, panic attacks, sleep difficulty, depressive episodes, phobias, and more.

They have been used for decades and play an important role in the treatment plan that a Licensed Mental Health Professional develops for their client. Their presence helps to mitigate the symptoms of whatever mental or emotional disability an individual lives with.

As a result, Prairie Conlon, the world’s leading expert on Emotional Support Animals, calls the DOT’s newly published law “textbook discrimination.”

“I don’t see how they can say yes to a dog flying for a fee of $150 but no to a dog that has a licensed clinician’s signature on it,” Conlon says. “This proposed rule would be eliminating the ability of all clinicians and doctors to utilize [ESA] treatment for their clients with mental health concerns, when the goal should actually be to eliminate the fraudulent [ESA] sites that are enabling scammers.”

 

What is CertaPet doing about the new regulation?

Here at CertaPet, we believe the DOT has chosen the easy and harmful path over the correct one.

Allowing airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets rather than as assistance animals that provide a real and much-needed service discriminates against those who need ESAs as part of their treatment plan for a mental or emotional disability.

We will keep everyone updated as we work towards a compromise in legislation.

In the meantime, we are working on new options for you to continue to utilize your comfort animal, including opportunities for you to train your animal as a Psychiatric Service Dog. This is a special type of assistance animal that assists its owner by performing special tasks that can help alleviate the individual’s depression, anxiety, phobia, etc. PSDs are permitted public access to places where pets or emotional support animals are normally not allowed and have federally protected rights that allow them onboard flights as well.

You can click the button below to take our quick and FREE pre-screening to see if you qualify for a psychiatric service dog.

 

 

Will I still be able to travel with my ESA?

As of January 11, 2021, ESA regulations will vary from airline to airline. Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airlines, and Southwest Airlines will no longer recognize emotional support animals as assistance animals in 2021. If you need to travel with your comfort animal, these airlines will now require that you pay a pet fee.

If you’re unsure about your airline of choice’s stance on ESAs, be sure to visit their website or contact their customer service department for the most up-to-date information available.

new dot law affects emotional support animals

 

If I received an ESA Letter Consultation from CertaPet, can I request a refund as a result of the new DOT regulations?

Although some airlines have reported no longer allowing ESAs onboard their flights (individuals will now have to pay a pet fee to travel with their comfort animal), your airline of choice may still permit emotional support animals. We encourage those who need more information to visit their airline’s website or contact their customer service department for the most up-to-date details available.

With regard to refunds, the price of your ESA Letter Consultation covered the use of the technology platform, screening, clinical evaluation, therapist consultation, and treatment planning. As these services have already been rendered, we will not be issuing refunds due to this unforeseen circumstance.

However, we will keep everyone updated as we work towards a compromise in legislation. Additionally, your therapist will still be checking in at regular intervals through email and any other mediums set up in your treatment planning. We are also working on exciting new options for you to continue to utilize your comfort animal and will be in contact as we develop them.

 

What other options are available for those who need an assistance animal while traveling?

The DOT now allows airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets, rather than as assistance animals. This means that those traveling with their comfort animal will now have to pay a pet fee when using certain airlines. If you’re unsure about your airline of choice’s stance on ESAs, be sure to visit their website or contact their customer service department for the most up-to-date information available.

However, there are other options available, including opportunities for you to train your animal as a Psychiatric Service Dog. This is a special type of assistance animal that assists its owner by performing special tasks that can help alleviate the individual’s depression, anxiety, phobia, etc. PSDs are permitted public access to places where pets or emotional support animals are normally not allowed and have federally protected rights that allow them onboard flights as well.

You can click the button below to take our quick and FREE pre-screening to see if you qualify for a psychiatric service dog.


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