Defense Department changes rules for air travel with emotional support animals
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Emotional support animals are no longer a recognized category on Defense Department flights, including the Patriot Express, and must fly as pets at their owners’ expense, Air Mobility Command officials said.
Under new regulations that went into effect last week, only cats and canines will be transported as pets on DOD flights, and only dogs are recognized as service animals, which can fly for free in the passenger cabin.
The section on emotional support animals was removed when the rules were updated in December by the Transportation Department. They were implemented on U.S. commercial flights at the start of this year, but AMC needed time to update the DOD instruction, command spokesman Capt. Frederick Wallace said in an email Monday.
Prior to the rule change, emotional support animals were considered service animals for the purpose of air travel, even though they don’t go through the rigorous training a service animal does.
Passengers wishing to travel with an emotional support animal only needed to provide a document from a licensed health professional that said the traveler has a mental or emotional disability and needed the animal during the flight or at their destination.
Traveling with a service animal, on the other hand, requires passengers to submit a signed statement prior to departure, detailing the training the dog received, attesting that it is in good health and pledging to keep it under control and prevent it from relieving itself in the plane or the terminal, according to a Pentagon memorandum announcing the rule change.
Before the changes, some air passengers flew — or tried to fly — with emotional support animals such as horses, hamsters, pigs, ducks, turkeys and an anteater.
One passenger was turned away from a New Jersey airport in 2018 after showing up for a United flight with an emotional support peacock, according to media reports at the time.
It was unclear whether anyone had tried to fly with emotional support animals other than dogs or cats on DOD flights prior to the rule change.
The new regulations limit the definition of pets to cats and dogs.
“Other animals, such as horses, fish, birds, and rodents, ferrets, spiders, and other reptiles are excluded as pets under this authority because of their size, exotic nature, shipping restrictions, host nation restrictions, and special handling difficulties,” the rules state.
Spaces on AMC flights for service animals and pets can be booked up to 90 days ahead of travel. Passengers traveling under permanent change of station orders can ship up to two pets per family if the number of animals allowed on their flight has not been exceeded, the new rules state.
Up to 20 dogs and cats will be carried in the cabin on DOD flights during peak PCS season this year, Wallace said. Pets must be in carriers that fit under the seat in front of the traveler. Service animals must travel at the passenger’s feet or be held on their lap.
The number of pets that can be carried in the cargo hold will vary depending on the size of the crates in which the animals are traveling.