AA Joins Alaska Airlines in Banning Emotional Support Animals

American Airlines is Joining Alaska Airlines in Banning Emotional Support Animals in the cabin, effective February 1, 2021, in the wake of the new Department of Transportation Rule that no longer considers Emotional Support Animals to be Service Animals.

The DOT Rule will go into effect January 11, 2021, which is also when AA will no longer authorize free travel for emotional support animals. American will continue to allow ESAs that were already approved for travel through the end of January 2021. ESAs that were previously approved for future travel 2/1/21 or later won't be transported unless they meet the new requirements for service dogs (including psychiatric support dogs) and submit the required DOT form attesting to the dog's behavior, training and health at least 48 hours in advance of the flight. The service animal's authorization will be valid for one year or until the expiration of its vaccinations, whichever occurs first.

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Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines will accept emotional support animals for reservations made before January 11, 2021, for travel on or before February 28, 2021. After 2/28/21, Alaska Airlines won't transport any emotional support animals.

As with AA, for all travel booked starting January 11, 2021 and for all flights from 3/1/21 onwards, Alaska Airlines will only accept dogs as a service animal. The dog must be trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability; this includes psychiatric service animals. Passengers traveling with a service animal must complete and submit DOT’s Service Animal Air Transportation Form to support.animal@alaskaair.com, attesting to the dog’s health, behavior, and training, at least 48 hours in advance of travel.

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Will Psychiatric Service Animals Become the New Emotional Support Animals?

The main potential loophole left open by the DOT's new rule is psychiatric service animals. As with seeing eye dogs, psychiatric service animals are supposed to be individually trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability. That said, the animal can be trained by its owner, there's no requirement that a professional trainer do the training. While the DOT rule acknowledges that some pet owners may try to use this to their advantage to skirt airlines' bans on ESAs, there isn't a solution, just the weak promise to monitor “whether unscrupulous individuals are attempting to pass off their pets as service animals for non-apparent disabilities, including (but not limited to) psychiatric disabilities.”

The hope seems to be that the standardized DOT form, in which animal owners acknowledge standards of behavior (“a properly trained dog does not act aggressively by biting, barking, jumping, lunging, or injuring people or other animals”), requires owners to keep the dog harnessed, leashed or tethered at all times (no more purse/lap dogs) and holds owners responsible for damage the dog charges on board, will dissuade at least some of the more flagrant violators and prompt them to leave their pets at home.

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