DOT Releases Updated Service Animal Regulations for Air Travel


In an ongoing effort to keep up with changing times, the Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released their updated rules for air travel with service animals. This rule replaces the previous one ( ). which was released in October 2018.

While the previous rule increased the documentation required to fly with an emotional support animal, this update classifies emotional support animals as pets. The rule is expected to take effect in early 2021, 30 days after it’s published in the Federal Register. Here are the highlights of the new guidelines.

Service Animals

The new rule defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Emotional support, comfort or protection are not considered tasks under this regulation.

Species Requirement

The new guidelines limit service animals to dogs. Although snakes, spiders and exotic animals are already prohibited, this update specifically prohibits miniature horses, which were previously allowed.

Emotional Support Animals

Emotional support animals are considered pets under the new guidelines, and as such are subject to airline pet transportation rules and charges. Previously emotional support animals were allowed to fly for free, with documentation from a mental health professional. The new service animal definition is now the same as the one in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which does not recognize emotional support animals.

Psychiatric Service Animals

Psychiatric Service Animals will be treated the same as service animals under the new guidelines.


Airlines can require passengers traveling with service animals to submit DOT designed forms that attest to the service animal’s health, behavior and training. Additionally they can require attestation that the service animal will not need to relieve itself, or can relieve itself in a sanitary manner, on flights over eight hours. Previously this information was required, but each airline developed their own forms.

Advance Notice

Previously no advance notice was needed to travel with a service animal, but the new rules require that all documentation be submitted at least 48 hours prior to the flight.


Previously a passenger traveling with a service animal was required to check in at the counter. Now they can use the self-check-in kiosks, however they must carry a copy of the DOT documentation forms that were submitted to the airline. This documentation may be required at the departure gate.

Number of Service Animals

Airlines are allowed to limit the number of service animals per passenger to two. Previously the limit was three.

Unchanged Requirements

Several requirements remain unchanged. These include requiring a service animal to sit within the handler’s footspace on the aircraft, and requiring service animals to be leashed or tethered at all times. The new guidelines also continue to prohibit airlines from refusing to transport service animals based solely on their breed; however they can refuse transportation to service animals that exhibit aggressive behavior or pose a threat to other passengers..

All in all the new guidelines offer a sensible and regimented approach to flying with a service animal. The guidelines are uniform and will hopefully eliminate some grey areas that allowed exceptions for some questionable species (turkey, pig, squirrel and peacock) in the past . Additionally, the new regulations bring the ACAA more in line with with the ADA, which will ultimately make the rules easier to understand for everyone.