Alaska Becomes First US Airline To Ban Emotional Support Animals

Filed Under: Alaska

In early December, the US Department of Transportation issued a final ruling regarding emotional support animals (ESAs), which allows airlines to no longer accommodate emotional support animals if they don’t want to.

Alaska Airlines has now become the first major US airline to announce a ban on emotional support animals (I’d expect other airlines to change policies similarly — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, have already followed).

Alaska Airlines bans emotional support animals

It has been announced that Alaska Airlines will no longer accept emotional support animals on its flights. Effective January 11, 2021, Alaska Airlines will only transport service dogs, which are specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.

Alaska Airlines will continue to accept emotional support animals under its current policy for reservations booked prior to January 11, 2021, and for flights through February 28, 2021. As of March 1, 2021, emotional support animals will no longer be accepted on flights under any circumstances.

Under the revised policy:

  • Alaska Airlines will accept a maximum of two service dogs per passenger in the cabin
  • Passengers will be required to complete a DOT form, which will be available on starting January 11, attesting that their animal is a legitimate service dog, is trained and vaccinated, and will behave appropriately during the journey

There’s a new loophole people may use

While emotional support animals will be banned, don’t expect this to be the end of dogs over 20 pounds in the cabin of planes. Alaska Airlines explicitly notes that service dogs, including psychiatric service dogs, will continue to be allowed on Alaska Airlines flights.

As I noted in a separate post, odds are good that many people may choose to recategorize their emotional support animals as psychiatric service animals. Here’s how the DOT defines psychiatric service animals:

Psychiatric service animals are treated the same as other service animals that are individually trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.

There’s no special training needed for psychiatric service animals, or perhaps more accurately, you can train a dog yourself:

It is our understanding that the vast majority of emotional support animals are dogs, and dogs can be task-trained to perform many different tasks and functions. We also note that the rule does not require service animal users to incur the cost of training by third party schools or organizations; service animal users are free to train their own dogs to perform a task or function for them.

And you can self-certify your need for a psychiatric service animal:

Psychiatric service animal users will no longer be required to provide a letter from a licensed mental health professional detailing the passenger’s need for the animal, nor will they be required to check in one hour before the check-in time for other passengers.

I’m not making a judgment call here one way or another, but rather I’m simply pointing out that those celebrating the end of dogs in airplane cabins will likely be disappointed. Yes, there will now only be dogs in cabins (rather than peacocks, pigs, etc.), but for all practical purposes I don’t see a whole lot changing here.

Bottom line

Alaska Airlines will be banning emotional support animals as of early 2021. This follows a recent ruling by the DOT giving airlines the right to do this.

While I know many will celebrate this change, don’t get too excited — psychiatric service animals continue to be allowed, and that includes dogs. While this will lead to the end of animals other than dogs in airplane cabins, I wouldn’t expect a huge decrease in the number of travelers with dogs.

What do you make of Alaska Airlines’ emotional support animal policy change?

  1. I think the half-assing needs to end. Unless there’s medical documentation provided of a passenger disability *requiring* a service dog, the dog doesn’t come in the cabin. I just don’t think the airlines are truly interested in cracking down until they set a strict policy.

  2. Hmm, seems like Alaska Air is doing little more than wordsmithing the definition of a service animal. Will be interesting to see how many (psychotic?, lol) passengers go through the hoops to get their pets reclassified as psychiatric service animals.

  3. As a dog owner, it really bothers me to see other dog owners lying about their dogs being emotional support animals. There is also an opportunity for an airline to be creative about offering special services to dog owners, maybe designating certain areas of certain flights for cabin animals, etc. That way passengers who are not dog owners also know what they are getting themselves into and can avoid those flights if possible. I have a 100 pound dog and always chose dog-friendly hotels and pay the extra fee. I would do the same for an airline.

  4. Alaska Airlines Q and A:
    Q. I’m asking for a friend, if her wife is a dog or self identifies as a dog, can she fly free?
    A. You’re asking for yourself, not a friend. And she can’t fly free. Required federal regulation to translate: bow wow grrr ruff ruff!

  5. About time and wish all airlines would do this. If you need an emotional support peacock, viper, or tarantula, you don’t belong on an airplane.

  6. How about also cracking down on those “professionals” and doctors that will simply give out emotional support waivers to every Karen with a hangnail. If it truly is needed, it should stand up to rigorous vetting.

  7. Those who look for loopholes are no different than those who experience the miraculous health benefits of flight: they need a wheelchair to get thru security, they insist on priority boarding, but after being 37,000 feet closer to god, they jump up upon landing, fight to disembark quickly, and race down to terminal to baggage claim!

  8. It remains to see what loopholes will come about but this is a step in the right direction. Airports and airplanes are starting to look more like Petsmart. Flying DFW/PHX last week I was in the last row of F and there was a family in the first rows of Y (no divider on the AA A321neo) with a dog that first continually barked (no carrier) and then got sick everywhere.

    Funny 20 years ago people were able to travel just fine without their pets (other than those with real disabilities, not a product of an overheated imagination.)

  9. I personally think it’s quite comical to see readers from a site devoted to exploiting loopholes (and miles & points programs) to fly more comfortably complaining about people exploiting a loophole to fly more comfortably (with their pets).

  10. Completely agree with Kyle. This crap needs to end. Unless there is a serious medical need for one, you should not be allowed to have an emotional support dog on a plane.

  11. Psychiatric service dogs **do** require specific “specialized” training for tasks. Owner training (which is supported by a private professional trainer) is a legitimate way to go about this. This isn’t a “loop hole,” this is how civilians with psychiatric disorders (and some veterans who are waitlisted indefinitely) get adequate support from a legitimate medical assist. Pretty weird that you would go out of the way to frame this as a “loop hole” for randos who don’t want to pay pet fees or board their animals in the brig.

  12. Cats don’t bark, run down aisles spewing runny poops and don’t weigh enough to affect jet fuel consumption. They’re also known to train humans, which is a service, to remain calm. Ours just sleeps under the seat in front. Bet cats haven’t caused cabin mayhem or disturbed passengers anywhere near as often as dogs. We’re training ours to wear a mask to exploit another “loop hole” .. if we’re forced to pay $100 to have our kitty in the cabin, he will get his own seat.

  13. It is a shame this farce is allowed to continue. Unless its a legally licensed service dog it doesn’t need to be in the cabin.

  14. More power to Alaska for closing the gate to ESAs. I like knowing I have a choice of airline to avoid sharing a row with a poorly trained dog. On the other hand, I suspect the requirement that service animal users fill out extra paperwork will get tossed out as an ADA violation.

  15. First of all Why would you put something like that on here… Your making trouble for the People who Need a Service Animal to survive and function with every day chores! How many times do you see People with Service Animals have confrontation with people! Your an Idiot! My mom has a SA and almost everytime she goes somewhere she has a confrontation with people touching her dog or saying we dont allow cause there’s people with fake dogs! And it makes it difficult! Again why the F would you do that!!! I should send this to the Disability Act Dept!!!

  16. I have no problem with emotional support animals. As long as the accompanying passenger is forced to wear a shirt that says “I am a lunatic one neuron away from a trip to the nut farm”.

  17. Hmm, I was a flight attendant for years and never once had a problem with an animal in the cabin, nor did I ever have a passenger upset with someone for having an, ’emotional support animal’ with them… And I flew a lot of hours on emotionally fragile routes like nyc-lax. So what’s going on here? Why are all these commenters so upset, and how is it possible that I never came across this angst in real life? For what it’s worth, I use to load bags too, and if you you’d rather dogs be down below, you’re simply a cruel person with little regard for others…

  18. I don’t agree with the people who have abused the emotional support animal policy to where it has come to this. And I am also VERY grateful that there are so many people that apparently have no idea what it’s like to have a psychiatric disorder. I started off with an ESA to help with my SEVERE anxiety and PTSD. I now have a service dog for this among other issues that are not anyone’s business but my own. I have not taken my service dog on a plane, but it doesn’t mean I won’t in the future.

  19. I don’t think people are even pretending to have emotional support animals anymore and the problem is worse than ever. The last few flights I have taken have had a literal parade of dogs with owners bragging about how much the dog flies and basking in the attention that a dog on a plane seems to give them. Last week the dog behind me was larger than its owner. Its not amusing and I am dreading the day that one ends up next to me because I’m not sure what is the best method of objection because I absolutely am not sitting beside one that is in my personal space.

  20. I agree with Matt, I would pay extra to take my 30 pound mutt to europe if I decide to spend summers there. I also agree that the first time she barks uncontrollably vomits or pees or poops, she goes down in cargo. Saying that I have never been on a flight with anything larger than a lap dog. However I have been on flights where children need to be put in a cage,

  21. Uhhh … appears right hand and left hand aren’t communicating. They cannot ban miniature horses because ADA regulations have a separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Entities covered by the ADA (i.e. airlines) must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. So only defining dogs as service animals violates ADA and in case of litigation, banning minnie horses would violate ADA.

  22. In the Arabian countries pet falcons can fly with their owners. They have their own seat and also travel with their own passport. Fascinating and I admit I would love to be on a flight with one on board.

  23. Great news from Alaska! Hopefully, other airlines will join in. However, it’s only the first step. Now, airlines must announce in clear and precise language that NO emotional support animals will be permitted in passenger cabins. This includes NO psychiatric service animals. Period! Current psychiatric service self-certification invites cheating! Truly disabled persons and their service dogs should be accorded all possible assistance. Other fraudsters must be recognized as cheaters! Impose a tough penalty, such as a ban from future flying. The same as others who have violated on-board regulations, like no masks!

  24. hghglobal-you better pray you don’t ever need an ESA/PSA. I have an ESA, for anxiety, & other issues. I can’t go anywhere without him.

  25. This was a good day for regular and disabled passengers. Sanity in the air.

    Then along come TPG and OMAT informing the world how to violate the intent and spirit of the fake emotional support animal ruling. Just pretend you have a psychiatric problem that prevents you from functioning without the calming effect of a pet puppy.

    There needs to be sanity here. The “me first” attitude of ES owners is not acceptable. All properly trained service animals should be required to have accredited training and need a certificate issued by an accepted authority – not some quack for hire.

    I have been lucky that on flights where an ESA horse-sized animal has been brought onboard in economy I was able to upgrade to business for a reasonable price instead of having it slobber or insert itself into my space for the duration of the flight. Nothing like a St Bernard and passenger sharing the space behind my seat when the seat pitch is 29″ .

    Bloggers who can’t travel without your puppies – stop putting your emotional needs ahead of the majority of fliers who are ethical.


  26. What about those of us that have allergies to pets? These animals make it a horrible, uncomfortable flight. One hair near my face and I start sneezing and eyes itch. No I will not take medicine to counter the reaction, because if there is an emergency I want to be awake, coherent. I am the one that has to move if there is one next to me/near me, not them.

  27. “Cats don’t bark, run down aisles spewing runny poops and don’t weigh enough to affect jet fuel consumption.” But the make my eyes itch like crazy and cause me to sneeze non stop.

  28. Unless there is medical proof that animals cannot spread Covid 19, they should be forced to wear masks or be banned from flying. Humans have to wear masks. Why are dogs treated better than people?

    Last week I watched an ESA drop 5 huge turds in IAH Terminal C between the United Lounge and Gate 1.

    Even the most moronic drunken humans don’t crap on the floor.

    I have been seated next to dogs that sniffed my privates and sat on my feet.

    On an E-145 IAH-JAN a “service dog” peed on my shoes. I was in 3C and the dog’s owner was in 3D. There was no room for the dog.

    Owners should have to buy a separate seat for service animals.

  29. While there will not need to be a letter there is a certificate or documentation that is required. This will significantly reduce the silliness of the animals on board and limit those mostly to those who really need them. So many people were “working the system.”

  30. American pet culture, esp dog culture, is out of control. Sure, spend your time and energy on a creature that will live for only ten years instead of investing in human relationships that will substantially improve your life. Insisting on traveling with a dog for emotional support really is a societal problem. Worst of all people are still doing this during a pandemic and putting the dogs life at risk. There should be a service for pet owners who are relocating but limit it to a special section and have them buy an extra seat for the pet.

  31. DC not in DC –

    I’m cabin crew and I can tell you we absolutely have had grown men (not drunk) climb on top of a trash cart and take a sh*t because they were pissed off at the crew. We’ve had men sh*t in the bathroom sink, floor and other places. I’ve seen them jack off in front of us at their seats or “accidentally” open the bathroom door with their pants down while tugging away. We’ve had teenagers and adults pee themselves, vomit over two rows of seats after a night of too much partying. We’ve been sexually harassed, pinched, poked and screamed at all by humans.

    I can also absolutely say I’ve never been treated poorly or had to deal with any of that horrid behavior mentioned above by an animal on a flight – Service or ESA or pet.

    I hate the cheating, dishonest humans that go along with the animals.

    The animals however, I prefer.

  32. Tina,

    How long did you work for Jeffrey Epstein?

    Have any good pics of Bill Clinton doing the things you mentioned?

  33. @Phil Piccione reporting this blog post to the “Disability Act Dept.” will get you absolutely nowhere, clown. He simply reported and provided his perspective of Alaska Airlines’ policy. Plus, he was discussing ESAs, not SAs, so your little tantrum just sounds ridiculous. You’re probably one of those SJWs who needs to find something to be offended and outraged at. Get a life.

  34. @Briant Judkins And if you say this you have no idea what it is to be allergic to dogs and to have trouble breathing in a tube up in the air. Dog hair and dander can affect passengers on flights days or even weeks after the emotional support pet was on the flight. The hair and dander can get on their clothes and might affect an allergic person after a flight. And why? Because a person can’t be without their pet for a few hours? In fact, even service animals can cause allergic reactions and it would be best if service animals were restricted to certain seating areas and plastic or other coverings should be put on the floor to capture the hair and the dander for disposal after the flight.

  35. Well done, Alaska.

    However, considering “Psychiatric Service Dogs”, I’d prefer the dog to fly, WITHOUT its owner. It’s likely to be lower risk!

  36. Came to love Alaska Airlines as their crew treated our King Charges so well. Always paid for first class tickets to not bother anyone else in the row. Dog sleeps the entire trip. Would be happy to pay for her, but doesn’t fit under the seat. Not allowed in cargo because of the type of dog she is. Be happy to pay for her – not trying to get a free ticket from anyone. Just love our dog, has helped my anxiety tremendously, and I thank Alaska for being so kind these many years. Not sure what we will do now, but probabaly look at freight planes that fly animals in the cabin, and drive a lot. Or hope someone else will still allow us to do this.

  37. As the handler of a (psychiatric) service dog, there still seems to be some inaccuracies from the author. There is a huge difference between what an emotional support animal is and what a service dog is.
    ESAs’ are simply pets that bring comfort to their owner, typically not trained. Service animals including those used for psychiatric disabilities ARE trained specifically to aid their handler with his or her disability. All service teams should have a prescription from their doctor or shrink as well as training records from either their trainer or that they have done if self-taught.
    Due to HIPPA and the ADA none of this stuff can be asked for, which is why we are at the point we are at. Only 2 questions can be asked of a handler. Is that a service animal? And, what does he/se do for you?

  38. The airlines know better than to F*&^# with people that are disabled. Huge Lawsuits have been won by people with disabilities that were discriminated against. And rightfully so.

  39. Yeah, Jeff, Piccone and other supporters of ESA dogs: I personally have traveled once with an “emotional support” dog and I can honestly tell you that it was no fun for me OR the dog. It’s also a pain in the behind to have to haul this pet around with you everywhere; let’s face it.

    First of all it is somewhat embarrassing to HAVE to take it in the cabin with you. Many dogs are not necessarily needed with you at all times but will be needed at your destination (which is perfectly legal–and was my case).
    Having said that, I TOTALLY believe these animals SHOULD be allowed to travel in cargo area to not affect other passengers in ANY way.

    Don’t charge me for my animal if that’s what you’re offering; but don’t force me to put it under my feet or on my lap either.
    Flying animals can be very disturbing and perhaps even painful to animals causing severe altitude pressure in their ears that they cannot clear. –AND THAT HURTS!!!
    If I can avoid i t, I will never take my dog on a plane again, exposing her to this uncomfortable situation.

    Because don’t tell me that you cannot travel without your animal. If you’re that scared without it, stay home. If you’re blind (well, hopefully someone is reading this to you), but the dog is NOT going to help you inside the cabin because you’re probably just going to sit your little ass down for 2 or more hours;—Not be walking around in the cabin. And if you just absolutely have to get up to go pee-pee or pu–pu, just hold on to all the seats on the way to the restroom. They are within reach for both arms.
    Just put the dog in the cargo area, [‘hombre’] and have them bring it to you when unboarding.

    A NOTE FOR AIRLINES: Please don’t sit a dog and a cat near each other on a flight. All animals are NOT created equally.

  40. While there will always be those who flout the rules, one of the more notable changes is with that DOT form that every passenger traveling with a service animal will need to submit before traveling.

    On this form, the owner of the animal must attest to the animal’s behavior and that it will not behave in a disruptive manner or bark on the flight. If this provision is not met- the animal (no matter a pet or service animals) can be banned from future travel. If you are a passenger subjected to a misbehaving pet or service dog- please report it to flight personnel.

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