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 alaskaair.com 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.
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?