Orlando, emotional support animal, ESA. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Education Images/Universal … [+] Images Group via Getty Images)
Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
After more than a year of lobbying by US airlines, Emotional Support Animals (ESA) may be departing the passenger cabin. On December 2, the US Department of Transportation announced that it is revising the Air Carrier Access Act on the transportation of service animals by air “to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system.”
Trained service animals like guide dogs for the blind will be permitted; ESA animals will not. Instead, they will be treated as pets, and their owners will need to pay pet travel fees. The new rule will go into effect early next year.
But will the new rules let down travelers with mental or emotional illness that can be helped by emotional support animals, particularly during the stressful COVID-19 pandemic? “Unfortunately, the DOT has chosen to take the easy way out and ban [emotional support animals] altogether,” says Prairie Conlon, LPC, NCC.
Conlon is clinical manager for CertaPet, which connects clients with mental health professionals familiar with emotional support animals. She says, “How can they say that someone with a physical disability, or certain mental disabilities like PTSD, can have a service dog when they have a legitimate need for them, but someone who has been diagnosed by a clinician with a mental health disorder and has a legitimate need for them can’t have their animal with them anymore? That is textbook discrimination.”