March 25, 2023

The U.S. Department of Transportation proposed an alteration of policy Jan. 22 that will disqualify emotional support animals from flying with their owners under the same conditions as service animals.

Currently, animals licensed as ESAs can fly in cabins free of charge. If the proposed rule takes effect, only officially trained service animals will be offered this leeway. Many travelers and professionals have opposing views on this potential change of policy.

Thomas Ortiz, senior aviation management major, said he believes the new policy could benefit individuals with disabilities.

“Over the past several years, a large number of people have falsely claimed the need for emotional support animals to avoid pet travel fees,” Ortiz said. “This has led to many instances of misbehaved animals causing problems on-board aircraft or in terminals, damaging the credibility of true service animals and making the process of traveling with a service animal more difficult for disabled individuals.”

Ortiz said the policy will positively affect all travelers because it is cost effective.

“ESAs are a large expense for the industry. This expense is passed onto travelers in lowered amenities on board, tighter cabins and addition- al fees for checked bags and ticket changes. Controlling revenue-eroding factors like ESAs can help minimize the increased expense of air travel,” Ortiz said.

Dr. Daniel Prather, professor of aviation, also said he believes the change will positively impact passengers and airlines. He discussed likely reactions of ESA owners to the policy change.

“The question remains whether these passengers who rely on emotional support animals will no longer fly. But, I expect this to be an insignificant number of passengers,” Prather said.

While many have high hopes for the new rule, others believe the changes could be damaging to those who have flown with ESAs in the past.

Anna Woodhall, junior photography major, said ESA’s should be allowed with conditions.

“Emotional support animals should still be permitted on planes, but owners should be required to prove their animal meets behavior standards; maybe pass a more rigorous test and show records of a condition that would require an emotional support animal,” Woodhall said. “If someone does rely on an ESA, it’s unfair to strip away their right to that emotional sup- port.”

In the two months following the proposition, the U.S. Department of Transportation will allow the public to voice their opinions. If the change is enacted, airlines will decide if restricting ESAs is a worthwhile policy change or if policy should be left as is.

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