In early December 2020, 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 recently became the first major US airline to announce a ban on emotional support animals, and now American Airlines is following in its footsteps (since then, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines have followed as well).
American Airlines bans emotional support animals
It has been announced that American Airlines will no longer accept emotional support animals on its flights. American Airlines will only transport service dogs, which are specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.
American Airlines will continue to accept emotional support animals under its current policy for reservations booked prior to January 11, 2021, and for flights through January 31, 2021. Starting February 1, 2021, emotional support animals will no longer be accepted on flights under any circumstances.
Under the revised policy:
- American Airlines will ask customers traveling with service animals to complete a DOT form attesting to the dog’s behavior, training, and health
- The airline will require this form to be submitted electronically 48 hours in advance of a flight, unless the reservation is booked within 48 hours of travel
- A service animal’s authorization is valid for a year or until the expiration of its vaccinations
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. American Airlines’ press release on this states the following:
The DOT’s new rule defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability — a narrower definition than in the past.
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.
Owners of dogs are allowed to train their own psychiatric service animals, so there’s no need to have these dogs trained by an outside party:
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 I would expect that there will still be a significant number of dogs traveling in the cabins of planes under these rules.
American Airlines will be banning emotional support animals in the coming weeks. This follows a recent ruling by the DOT giving airlines the right to do this, and American Airlines is the second major airline to add this restriction, after Alaska Airlines.
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 American Airlines’ emotional support animal policy change?