Final Ruling from DOT on Traveling by Air with Service Animals

January 6, 2021

What Do The New DOT Rules Mean For Me?


The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced new regulations about service animals and emotional support animals on commercial air flights. The “Traveling by Air with Service Animals” final rule will become effective in early 2021. The new DOT regulations change air travel for people with disabilities traveling with emotional support and service animals.


The new DOT rules align more with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which  only allows service animals in businesses or government buildings. The DOT suggests that this alignment with the ADA may help to reduce confusion among airlines, passengers, airport personnel, and others by having more uniform rules about service animals. 


There are many shifts to air travel in the DOT’s new Traveling by Air with Service Animals” regulations. Read the full regulations here.

The biggest change is that emotional support animals (ESAs)—or animals solely used for comfort— will no longer be considered service animals. The new rule only allows for a service animal, defined as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability, on airplanes. You may take up to two service animals with you on a flight, but the dog(s) must either fit on your lap or at your foot space. Airlines must treat psychiatric service dogs the same as other service dogs. This means airlines may no longer require psychiatric service animal users to provide documentation from a licensed mental health provider of the passenger’s need for the animal. The new rule also requires service animal users to provide a form developed by the DOT attesting to the dog’s health, behavior, and training. 

Check in with your service animals should be easier now. An airline cannot require a service animal user to check in at the gate. The service animal user may use the online check-in process and provide any forms at their departure gate on the date of travel. However, travelling with your service animal may require some pre-planning on your part. You need to make sure you have the proper DOT Service Animal forms filled out and that your dog can fit on your lap or at your foot space on the aircraft. Although you do not have to disclose your disability, make sure you can explain what task or service your dog has been trained to perform. 

Finally, although the new rule does not require an airline to transport your ESA, the good news is that if you do want to travel by air with your ESA, you can check with the airline to see if it will transport the ESA as a pet pursuant to its established policy. Keep in mind that it is up to each individual carrier to decide if they will transport pets.


The DOT’s “Traveling by Air with Service Animals” final rule changes air travel for people with disabilities who use ESAs and service animals. So, be sure that you plan ahead when flying, so you can navigate the new regulations. People with disabilities deserve equity in air travel, so if you face problems navigating air travel with your service animal be sure to reach out with questions. We’ve included some helpful links below.



The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has rules about service animals on airplanes. This rule starts in early 2021. The new rules are more like the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) rules.

There are many new rules. These are just some of them. Airlines must allow service animals on airplanes. Service animals are only dogs that can perform a task. Airlines must allow service dogs used for mental health on airplanes. Airlines are no longer required to allow Emotional Support Animals on planes.

Plan ahead before flying with a service animal. You do not have to bring documentation of disability when you fly with a service animal. However, before flying you must fill out a DOT form that promises the dog is healthy, behaves, and is trained. 

You can check-in with your service animal online or at the gate. You can bring up to two service animals on the airplane. The service animals must fit either on your lap or under your seat.

Need help with a disability rights issue? Contact DRT at 1-800-342-1660 or at