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Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) (1986), Americans Disabled: Civil Rights Laws, Regulations and Decisions (Active in 2023), Deter Disability Fraud, Emotional Support Animal (ESA), Fact Check

FAA’s Air Carrier Access Act update for Emotional Support Animals

Emotional Support Animals on Commercial Airlines- Must Read

Navigating Recent Changes:
Updates to the Air Carrier Access Act and Emotional Support Animals on Domestic Commercial Flights

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) has long been a crucial piece of legislation ensuring the rights and accessibility of individuals with disabilities in air travel. In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the number of emotional support animals (ESAs) accompanying passengers on domestic commercial flights. However, to address concerns about abuse and ensure the safety and well-being of all passengers, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has implemented important changes regarding ESAs on flights. In this article, we will explore these recent updates and their impact on air travel.


Historically, the ACAA has allowed passengers with disabilities to travel with service animals, including both psychiatric service animals (PSAs) and ESAs. ESAs, in particular, have gained popularity as companions providing emotional support to individuals with mental health conditions during air travel. However, a lack of consistent regulations and the misuse of the ESA designation raised concerns regarding the legitimacy and safety of such animals on flights.

Recent Changes:

In December 2020, the FAA announced new rules regarding ESAs on domestic commercial flights. These changes came into effect on January 11, 2021. The key updates are as follows:

  1. Definition of a Service Animal: The FAA revised the definition of a service animal to include only dogs specifically trained to perform tasks to assist individuals with disabilities. Other animals, including ESAs, are no longer considered service animals under the ACAA.

  2. Exclusion of Emotional Support Animals: ESAs are no longer granted the same privileges as service animals. Passengers are no longer permitted to travel with ESAs in the cabin free of charge.

  3. Recognized as Pets: Airlines now have the discretion to treat ESAs as pets, subject to their individual pet policies and fees. Passengers traveling with ESAs will need to follow the airline’s guidelines for traveling with pets and pay applicable fees.

  4. Traveling with Psychiatric Service Animals: The revised regulations emphasize the continued allowance of PSAs on flights. However, airlines may request additional documentation at least 48 hours prior to travel, including a completed DOT form attesting to the animal’s training and behavior, vaccination records, and the passenger’s mental health professional’s statement.

Impact and Rationale:

These changes aim to strike a balance between ensuring accessibility for passengers with disabilities and addressing concerns about the abuse and misrepresentation of ESAs. By limiting the definition of a service animal to trained dogs, the FAA seeks to enhance safety and prevent disturbances caused by untrained animals. Treating ESAs as pets enables airlines to establish consistent guidelines and address potential hygiene and public health concerns associated with animals in the cabin.

It is important to note that the revisions do not diminish the significance of PSAs in assisting individuals with psychiatric disabilities. The updated regulations continue to recognize the valuable role that PSAs play in providing necessary support during air travel.

The recent changes to the ACAA implemented by the FAA regarding ESAs on domestic commercial flights reflect the evolving landscape of air travel. By refining the definition of service animals and treating ESAs as pets, the FAA aims to enhance safety and reduce abuse while maintaining accessibility for passengers with disabilities. These changes encourage a more consistent and transparent approach, ensuring that air travel remains safe, comfortable, and inclusive for all passengers. Passengers with disabilities are advised to familiarize themselves with their airline’s specific policies and requirements to ensure a smooth travel experience.

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