American Airlines Adds Restrictions On Emotional Support Animals

Filed Under: American

Earlier this year both Delta and United updated their policies when it comes to emotional support animals, and then just a few weeks ago Alaska updated their policy. Airlines have seen a huge spike in the number of passengers traveling with emotional support animals, and they’re starting to crack down on this.

With Delta, United, and Alaska having all added restrictions, there was one obvious airline missing.

American Airlines has just announced that they’re making changes to their emotional support animal policy. In updating their policy, American notes that they’ve seen a 40% increase in the number of people traveling with service and support animals between 2016 and 2017.

In addition to the current requirements, for tickets issued on or after July 1, 2018, American will require customers traveling with support animals to complete the following paperwork:

  1. Mental Health Professional Form
  2. Behavior Guidelines
  3. Animal Sanitation During 8+ Hours Form (only required if your flight is scheduled to be over 8 hours)

On top of that, American is banning the following types of animals as service animals:

  • Amphibians
  • Ferrets
  • Goats
  • Hedgehogs
  • Insects
  • Reptiles
  • Rodents
  • Snakes
  • Spiders
  • Sugar gliders
  • Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game birds, & birds of prey)
  • Animals with tusks, horns or hooves (excluding miniature horses properly trained as service animals)
  • Any animal that is unclean / has an odor

American’s new documentation requirements won’t prevent anyone who is currently traveling with an emotional support animal from continuing to bring it onboard. They’re simply trying to make you jump through some additional hoops, in hopes of fewer people having the follow-through to complete the paperwork in time. A mental health professional form is already required, so the only real addition here is having to sign a piece of paper with behavior guidelines.

Personally I can’t imagine this will have a big impact on those traveling with emotional support animals, and I’d be surprised if it leads to a decrease in the number of people traveling with these types of animals.

American has also uploaded a video or their “Tell My Why” podcast to explain the new rules, featuring Albert Rizzi, founder and chief executive officer of My Blind Spot, Inc., and Suzanne Boda, American’s Senior Vice President, Los Angeles:

It’s peculiar to me that Suzanne talks about how they wanted to take their time with these changes and not just jump into them like the other carriers did, yet American copied their competitors exactly in terms of the new requirements.

Bottom line

American is just matching their competitors here, and is essentially adding a layer of documentation for anyone wanting to travel with an emotional support animal. Personally I can’t imagine having to fill out one extra form will greatly change the number of people traveling with animals. I guess we’ll see the impact over time.

What do you make of American updating their policy on emotional support animals? Do you think this will decrease the number of people traveling with emotional support animals?

  1. Just furious at these changes
    I will not travel without my emotional support ostrich,pig, goat or giraffe
    They are the only ones that understand me
    Have to take my business to Spirit

  2. I can just imagine my excitement at finding out the person next to me has boarded with a goat. Thankfully the goat erAA is has concluded.

  3. I put a leash around my girl friend and called her my emotional support animal. American wasn’t buying it. “Sir, she is not an animal” the gate agent said. Oh yeah? Get in the bed with her and then tell me what you think.

    Still didn’t buy it!

  4. @Lucky

    You are wrong that they copied others’ exactly. They didn’t. UA has stricter requirements than AA.

    What UA did violates the ACCA. What AA did follows the ACCA. They were correct to wait and be careful. I hope someone files a class action lawsuit against UA and/or they are hugely fined by the FAA for wholesale violation of the ACCA.

  5. Sorry @SteveH but some employee will probably insist it’s a rodent and advise you to flush it.

  6. Pretty screwed up that you need to put a ban on bringing snakes, goats and other “exotic” pets. I’m sorry, but who in their right mind would bring a f***ing miniature horse into a plane? This doesn’t happen in Europe…

  7. I was getting worried that they wouldn’t revise the policy when they didn’t instantly follow DL’s lead. The stinky animals are the worse – I wonder if gate agents will perform a “smell test?”

  8. I’m sorry if this is not “sensitive,” but, aside from seeing-eye dogs, an airplane cabin is not the place for animals. Be it a pet or an “emotional support” animal. Unless it’s a legitimate service animal, it should travel in the hold or stay home. It’s about the impact on others being forced into close confines with animals and, as far as I’m concerned, people take clear precedence.

  9. @Luis: Maybe his emotional support animal is his “girlfriend”.
    Now, what kind of animal could it be?

  10. @Derek – Well I think it’s wonderful people who were previously confined are now able to fly and experience life like the rest of us.

    Your attitude actually perfectly sums up my number one gripe about the US – everyone is always “me, me, me”. Did you even stop to think about those people before declaring this, or just jump straight to “that’s a mild irritant to me, it should be banned”?

    If there was a way to stop all the people abusing this program then that would be great (perhaps the mental health form should have to confirm you’re receiving ongoing psychiatric help?), but in my mind it’s an acceptable price to pay.

  11. @ari emotional support animals couldn’t be more Lenient it’s unbelievable I can’t believe airlines aren’t more strict. I think the FAA needs to step in here and set a rule they can have clear correspondence with the ADA(not the acca which is a accounting group) and set some rules that prevent people from bribing untrained animals of all types on planes impacting other passengers.

    @Callum the problem isn’t me, me, me flip the way your thinking about it and see how many people are impacted from a poorly behaved “emotional support animal” that benefits one person. Don’t get me wrong I am all for seeing eye dogs, dogs trained for epilepsy attacks, and other conditions with the proper training. My problem is with people claiming they need their emotional support animal this wasn’t a thing even 10 years ago people are just abusing the system granted I understand some people feel calmed by their pets but no one wants to sit next to a untrained horse, cat, peacock etc. on a flight.

  12. @Jack

    Great. That’s fine. That’s a valid opinion. Modify the ACCA to match the ADA. The government can do that.

    What isn’t fine is UA unilaterally violating the ACCA in wholesale fashion. If you don’t like the law, work to change it, don’t violate it. UA put in requirements that violate the ACCA whereas AA and DL did not. I am not debating the merits of the policies, simply stating facts.

  13. if airlines just charged $50 one way no one would try and abuse the rules, they created their own black market that they are trying to regulate

  14. I don’t believe I’ve seen a definition of what animal qualifies for ESA, except what is not permitted (and they don’t include humans on the list). My wife provides emotional support, so I should just bring her along for free on my next trip.
    Too bad if people are severely allergic to certain animals, I guess they can just NOT get accommodated, unlike the ESA users.

  15. Thanks for thinking about me, SteveH. I am severely allergic to cats. I’ve had very unpleasant asthma symptoms and uncontrollable sneezing on flights when, it turns out, I’m sitting next to a cat owner. Goodness knows how bad I’d feel if someone brought a flippin’ cat on board! I don’t suppose these barmy airlines would cater for me!

  16. Wonderment – never, but never, take your giraffe on Jet 2. The seats don’t recline and your friend would never fit his neck and legs in the space.

    Maybe you should go for a miniature horse ………. only if it’s properly trained, of course.

  17. I have 3 friends who routinely travel with their animals. Not a single one is a service animal. They all call them “comfort dogs” and are manipulating the system. It started when the airline (United, in all 3 cases) increased the cost to fly a dog. Rather than pay the increased fees, they decided to term them comfort animals so they can fly free. All paperwork is easily obtained/faked. They use this designation to tote their pets anywhere they like–hotels, restaurants, stores, you name it. They openly discuss this with me and with others—even recommending the scam to others as a foolproof way to avoid paying $125 each way for a pet that is under the seat.

  18. Lucky,

    They’ve added a 48-hour advance notice requirement, too.

    Interestingly, Gary feels this goes substantially further than what Delta and UA have done… do bear in mind the outright ban on animal types from AA extends to virtually all household pets that are not dogs or cats.

    Hopefully this greatly reduces the number of people abusing the system, although nothing will really happen until congress and/or. E FAA step in.

    Sad state of affairs when airlines literally have to spell out that you can’t bring your pet snake on a plane by claiming emotional need.

  19. If you travel with an ESA, do yourself a favor… Drive. It’s much less stressful for you and your animal.

  20. All these fake ESA’s (NOT service animals) on board used to irritate me, but I’ve decided I’m going to flip the equation. My three year old son wants a miniature horse and I think we’ll take our new pet everywhere – as “emotional support,” of course! Although, perhaps not on flights over eight hours – ha ha ha!

  21. I get claustrophobic. It is difficult for me emotionally to be seated in economy. Would this qualify me for a free upgrade?

  22. What about folks that sneeze at their dirty nasty pets, or eyes swell because of their dander?
    Just stop this nonsense and leave the pet at home.

  23. Traveled on Jetblue Mint (JFK/SFO) last year whereby pax attempted to board in coach w 3 Emotional (medium sized) support dogs. Plane was delayed. She couldn’t fit all 3 carriers under seat and JB had to ask other pax to agree to put 2nd & 3rd dog under seat. Finally, out of concern for the time, 2 people volunteered. // “How many animals does it take to be supportive inflight?” (sounds like beginning of an old fashion joke). JB was playing it out for fear of being sued. Pendulum is swinging the other direction finally.

  24. I have often said that US carriers are one step away from a Pakistani Bus. Never so true these days.

  25. I am a disabled person who, fortutnately, does not need a service animal nor a comfort animal. I travel trequently (usually First or Premium Y) from my Florida home. I am apalled by the sense of entitlement that people have. I, personally, do not care for dogs and in fact even at my age, fearful of the larger breeds (which will never be in-cabin). The very idea that people think its “OK” to call a PET a comfort animal is beyond me. As is the airlines’ slow movement in cracking down on a situation that should have been adressed long ago.

  26. I’ve only seen a handful of pets, all dogs, in the cabin on flights over the years. Some in carriers, others not; all well-behaved.

    The only thing that bothers me is the idea – practice, it seems – of people scamming the airlines to save themselves money or of landlords, to get around housing restrictions. I believe only registered service animals should fly free in the cabin but don’t know how airlines would separate out those whose claims of needing an Emotional Support Animal are bogus.

    My recent dilemma involves an upcoming move from US mainland to Hawaii (difficult in itself due to Dept of Agriculture requirements). I’ll pay the fee for my small dog to travel in an under-the-seat carrier, but there’s no way, given the opportunity, that I’ll allow my 12yo larger dog to fly in the hold. I’d willingly pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of having her aboard, but there’s no mechanism by which I can pay for such a service.

    Therefore, I’m going the ESA route. A friend will accompany me and I arranged with the airline, Alaska Air, to purchase three across in Premium Class. Ours is a one-time, one-way journey — There really was no other acceptable option. I’d hate to be labeled as someone who “gamed the system,” but gratified that the option exists, regardless of how many conditions airlines place on this.

  27. I have seen so many more poorly trained children the ESA dogs on planes. If you’re going to complain because something is loud, smelly, and annoying, then you are essentially complaining about children as well. I have never experienced dogs kicking a seat, screaming, listening to their iPads without headphones. So I would much rather be on a plane with ESA dogs than entitled US children.

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