The decision by the United States Department of Transportation regarding the classification of service animals, determining that only dogs could be classified as such and emotional support animals do not meet the criteria, made major waves for travelers on Wednesday. Once the new ruling goes into effect, the scope of animals allowed on a flight will be greatly reduced, with those not fitting the criteria required to be checked into the plane's cargo hold by their owner for an additional fee. The announcement has received a mixed response since its issuing.
While there is a general acknowledgment amongst critics that an increasing number of users have abused the current system, the department's decision goes too far, say others. Prairie Conlon, the Clinical Director of telehealth company CertaPet, spoke out, offering an alternative.
"We at Certapet think this is a great disservice to those facing mental health challenges that get emotional support from their animal. 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... Providing clear guidelines for certification and vetting companies in the industry would have been simple steps to solve this challenge for all stakeholders."She went on to call the restrictions placed on emotional support animals a cheap fix that ignores travelers who need the treatment and have been using the animals appropriately for years, adding that taking away access to a researched and proven treatment for the serious issue of mental health is a "disgrace."
Russell Hartstein, a world-renowned behaviorist and sought-after dog trainer, described the decision to deny someone with an emotional disability the support they need to complete life functions as a form of discrimination. He expects the ruling will face legal challenges, while he will be busy as more travelers attempt to get their animals certified as service dogs.
While acknowledging the impact the ruling will have, Alex Miller, Founder & CEO of the travel site UpgradedPoints.com, argued that it was necessary to remove a loophole being exploited by travelers to avoid paying fees and bring their pet on flights. For those with what Miller described as true disabilities, the flying experience won't change, as doctors can easily certify true service animals. Further, those with emotional service animals just have to go through this certification process, creating a more regulated and safe environment on airplanes.
The decision by the Department of Transportation goes into effect on January 1, 2021.