American Airlines Bans Emotional Support Animals

Filed Under: American

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.

Bottom line

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?

  1. Great News. No more animals on planes. Many dishonest people have taken AAdvantage of the old policy on American and other airlines as well. A trained service dog is one thing, a pet snake or monkey is quite another.

  2. Ben, you’re killing me with the loopholes. I’ve worked in a hotel industry long enough to see so many people claiming their chihuahuas as their service animals, and these dogs end up sitting in the owner’s bag and barking at other guests.

  3. So, if I read this right – the dogs shift from ESAs which don’t have to be allowed everywhere to a bona fide ADA Service Animal, that basically cannot be refused entry anywhere. So hotels, lodging, rideshare etc. all must allow service animals that anyone can “train” and “certify the need for” ?

  4. Are they really “banned” or just no longer free? In other words, you can still bring a small pet in a carrier and pay the pet fee. Correct?

  5. @ Nun — You could still pay to bring a dog of up to 20 pounds on the plane, though bigger dogs are banned.

  6. It is a start. I have seen a dog bite a young child at DFW airport (terminal D). People just don”t want to pay the extra fee for transporting pets and call them a emotional support animal. Thank you American Airlines.

  7. People will just exploit the loophole and it’ll take a few more attacks on passengers before they close it.
    Good start though. I’m tired of “influencers” bringing gag animals on board planes for their social media egos.

  8. The DOT indicated that they will be monitoring the psychiatric issue very robustly. Since it will be necessary for a passenger with a service animal to sign off on a federal document under penalties of perjury, which would involve huge fines and possible incarceration, it would be a huge risk for the passenger to lie about their service animal status. Prior to this change, they did not need to certify anything. They didn’t go through this whole exercise so that people can continue to abuse the system. I am certain that the government set an example for passengers who lied about their service animals when there is a high profile incident. It won’t take long, I am sure.

  9. I have no doubt that people will use the loophole and lie their butt off. That has become the nature of society. Any kind of service animal should have a physician’s certification not self certification. Dogs tend to be more problematic as because unlike cats they are rarely in a carrier.

  10. It’s just AA being realistic here: With their new cramped Oasis interiors even ‘Cattle Class’ is no longer good enough for the animals.

  11. Ben,
    I have be reluctant to comment on this or any other topic important to me out of fear of being harassed… but maybe you (or others) can report on options for traveling with animals. I dont mean the silliness, that I agree, that ESA has become with people taking their pets to Disney… but what are the options for people who (for whatever reason) want/need to fly somewhere and bring an animal that cant fit in a carry-on and sit under the seat like luggage. Many airlines (like United) have stopped transports animals in cargo due to COVID these days (and many people would put their spouse or children in cargo before their pets). Even if paying for extra seats, etc were available – I think there would be a lot of interest. Heck, if an airline even reserved the last 2+ rows for pets only, I think there would be interest…..

    I sense for many, this might be a more interesting topic than how to squeeze a few extra points from using their AMEX platinum on parking meters.

    thank you


  12. Just yesterday, over the course of about 8 hours of travel, I saw a large dog wearing a “service animal” vest (and obviously not a trained service dog) have copious amounts of diarrhea all over the middle of the carpeted concourse of one airport, listened to a distressed dog bark and whimper almost nonstop for a 5 hour flight, then watched an oblivious owner drag a pet through the terminal at another airport while the poor dog left about a quart of urine spread 15 feet down the hallway. When I got to baggage claim, another three dogs got into a fight at the baggage claim carousel.

    As none of the dogs were in carriers and none were behaving like trained dogs, I can only conclude they were “emotional support animals” owned by abusive humans who should not be allowed to own pets. Traveling these days is like watching those horrible heartbreaking ASPCA tv commercials. I love dogs, but this is out of control and cruel to the animals.

  13. I fly constantly and have never been bothered by anybody’s animal. Last week was perhaps the most eventful animal story I’ve had, when a cat escaped from its container while on the ground at GRU, and ran under a business class seat — where it was quickly fetched and no big deal at all.

    One fact that one can count on in human beings: they hate to see anybody having a better time than themselves and are easily overtaken by envy. Seeing somebody accompanied by their loyal pet simply bothers some people beyond any ration measure, and that’s really what most of the opprobrium is about in my opinion. I wish pet owners luck in their repurposing of their dogs from Emotional Support Animals to Trained Psychiatric Animals.

    Does anybody really expect people to risk the lives of their pets by putting them below — a subject on which not nearly enough is written about given the real perils that exist — or moving abroad without them?

  14. Mak,
    I agree completely – I have traveled a lot (well, it’s relative compared to some people here) domestic and international – and while I have seen lots of dogs (a few cats, but never anything else), it is rare to see more than 1-2 on a flight and I can never recall a problem (except the time I flew with my 80 lbs Golden and he shedded on the guy in business/first next to me – I felt horrible and offered to clean his stuff – but he was a dog lover and didnt mind)…..

    Hearing these horror stories about pets sometimes makes me wonder how much this is a function of the owner and the airline that they chose to fly?

    Nevertheless, sometimes I need to travel for weeks on end with work and having the option to bring my dog (vs trying to find someone reliable to watch/walk/water/etc him) would be helpful – this is not about ESA as much as it is practical. How many people would leave their kids home alone for weeks on end?

    Yet, whenever I try to ask some of these simple questions, I get attacked with comments like: “get rid of your dog”, “change jobs”, “drive” – or worse…..

    maybe people need to lighten up? I understand people have allergies and real issues with certain animals and dander and such – I get it…. but some of the human behaviors are much worse…..

    just need some options – and yes, I would be willing to pay… but my dog does not travel as cargo…. which is interesting that those who sometimes advocate that are often the same who scream the loudest about seat pitch, middle seats, reclining etc….

    I sense you and I are about be be attacked…..


  15. “One fact that one can count on in human beings: they hate to see anybody having a better time than themselves and are easily overtaken by envy.”

    My allergic reaction to cats calls BS.

  16. As someone who has lived in Europe off and on for the past 30 years and who has transported both dogs and cats, I can attest to the fact that placing my animals in cargo on transatlantic flights never led to their deaths nor were they traumatized. Of course, I only traveled with them as part of an international move and had them mildly sedated and checked out by vets which is a requirement for international flights (at least my last one with pets about seven years ago). There seems to be a presumption that Cargo is a death sentence or a wholly traumatic experience for the animal. I can’t disagree more. Sure, the first time I placed a pet in cargo, I was concerned but after several journeys moving pets I never had a single incident nor were my pets showing any odd behaviors after their journey ended. We can cite bad incidents that we may have heard about in the news. We also know about airliners that have crashed but we still fly. That said, I don’t take my dog on vacation unless I’m driving but I wouldn’t hesitate shipping them in cargo if I make another move overseas.

    As much as dog owners believe their dog is perfect (and I’m no exception) , an airline cabin is not a kennel and some dogs are horrific- they drool, they stink, they have fleas, they have accidents, they bite and they are disruptive. Unfortunately, the few irresponsible passengers whose animals are a problem on flights have led us to this point.

  17. Donna,
    Yes – I had similar experiences growing up (several decades ago when air travel was a little different) and moving internationally a few times – which included our dog. The is clearly a stigma attached to flying cargo – and some of it recently deserved as I am not sure the processes have kept up – which is why I was hoping that Ben or others would write about this in an honest and objective manner. Furthermore, I recently contact United about this and they told me that they had suspected pets in cargo since the start of COVID. I know Delta was offering something high-end, but I dont know all the details – again emphasizing why this would be a great topic for a travel blog rather than a venue for people to bitch about how much they hate being around pets on airplanes….


    ps – I think your drooling, stink, fleas comments could also clearly apply to some of the humans…..

  18. What a FIASCO!!! Only animals that should ever be in the cabin are seeing eye dogs. If you have such bad psychiatric conditions that do not allow you to travel without a pet then you need either STAY HOME or DRIVE! GIVE ME A BREAK!

  19. A big nothing burger as far as dogs. People lied to save dough before. Now they just need to tell a different lie.

    It galls me that I spent all that time and money on my emotional support penguin.

  20. Prior to 2020 when I flew very little, my annual fees for traveling with my small dog were about $3,000. More when I bought an extra seat.

    I am crazy as a loon, but I had no intention of my name ending up on a list of travelers with emotional support animals. Sooner or later, insurers will get that list. And while pre-existing conditions are now covered and coverage cannot be denied, who knows what will happen in the future.

    No, thanks.

  21. Josh,
    you are correct – for people who go down that path to now claim that they need to travel with a pet due to mental health issues (especially if certified by a healthcare provider) with then have to declare that as part of their medical record – and yes, can and probably will be at some point, be considered a pre-existing condition. Might even be used as part of pre-employment assessment, professional licensing, insurance, etc – or you can commit a felony by lying to the government. Yes, this is real…..


  22. Thanks, Ben, for instructing everyone in how to completely violate and bypass the DOT ruling.

    You are making a mockery of the work they do to protect the general public.

    Please remember that if you falsify your documents regarding the pet training or reasons for bypassing the ban then you are subject to the full penalty of the law. I do hope an airline of passenger pushes this and makes a very public conviction.

  23. @Mak, get a life. you dont need to take your animal on vacation.

    @Ben, stop sharing these freaking loopholes. those Aholes probably read your blog too and are taking notes…

  24. My emotionally supportive Black Widow Spider is very small, very quiet and loves little dogs.

    I guess I will have to self certify it’s contribution to society and my own mental health.

    What next? The self destruction of American democracy?

  25. Michael F,
    It is rediculous to expect your 80 pound dog in the cabin not to bother others. if I were your seat mate it would be a matter for the airline to chose between you and your dog or me. what amazes me is that you don’t seem to see what’s wrong with you bringing your “golden”.

  26. Good. If you’re too emotionally fragile to board a plane without your ESA, you’re too fragile to fly. The world can’t cushion you at every turn.

  27. The dog haters on this blog are the ones who need to get a life. You are probably among the dozens of human passengers who bug the hell out of me in every flight. The people who snore, who get too drunk, who stink, too fat for their seat, and who mistreat or disgust their fellow passengers in thousands of other ways, from farting to sticking their feet on your hand rest. And those are the adults. Their offspring are usually feral AF. I’ll gladly fly in a plane full of dogs over you all, anyday.

  28. Ben,
    I am trying not to flame the predictable hatred that this is evolving into, as you can see, but this topic is once again getting out of control with inappropriate personal attacks – this is your blog and I know any click is a paid click, but maybe some control is in order? Again, we are not discussing emotional support spiders, peacocks, black bears, elephants and families that want to take their pets to Disney – we are discussing the middle ground in which a traveler might want or need to take an animal on a flight. Right now UA has suspended all cargo-pet services and unclear what other options there are (hence the request for an adult discussion on this).

    I have had to change jobs several times over the years (must be nice for people on this blog who travel for a living to be able to stay in the home they grew up in for decades) – but there are realities to life. My 80lbs Golden has been on 3 segments – each time I purchased an extra seat and went out of the way to minimize the trauma to him from being around people who can not be around dogs (maybe some of these people need emotional support somethings to deal with their hatred of animals) – and each time, I made it clear to the people around me and the FA that I was more than willing to move (even give up my PAID J) to a different part of the plane… all of which is more than what I have seen people do with their disruptive kids and their own behaviors….


Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reminder: OMAAT comments are changing soon. Register here to save your space.