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Several U.S. Airlines Ban Emotional-Support Animals

By David Koenig, Associated Press

Jan 8, 2021

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Only dogs trained as service animals will be allowed on board planes for free soon.

Photo by Shutterstock

Only dogs trained as service animals will be allowed on board planes for free soon.

Only trained service dogs will get to fly for free under new rules set by four major domestic carriers.

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Following a ruling by the U.S. Transportation Department last month that only trained service dogs will be allowed to fly for free as emotional-support animals, domestic airlines are now putting their own policies into effect. 

American Airlines announced on Tuesday that it would ban emotional-support animals in a move that will force most owners to pay extra if they want their pets to travel with them. The carrier will allow animals in the cabin free of charge only if they are trained service dogs. The change takes effect Monday, January 11, although passengers who already bought tickets can fly with a companion animal until February 1.

The move follows a similar decision by Alaska Airlines and was mimicked by Delta on Thursday and United today, according to the Points Guy.

“Delta’s updated policy follows a nearly 85 percent increase in animal incidents since 2016, including urination, defecation and biting,” said David Garrison, Delta’s senior vice president of corporate safety and security, in a statement.

American said passengers with a service dog will need to complete a government form vouching for the dog’s health, training, and temperament. Other animals, including dogs not trained as service dogs, will only be able to fly in the cargo hold or a kennel that fits under a seat in the cabin. Either way, American will collect a pet fee ranging from $125 to several hundred dollars.

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Jessica Tyler, American’s president of cargo, said the rules will help passengers with service animals and protect employees on planes and in airports.

United noted in a statement: “With this change, United will no longer accept emotional support animals on new reservations beginning January 11. However, we will continue to accept emotional support animals for customers who booked tickets—and were approved for emotional support travel—before January 11 for travel through February 28. We are reaching out to customers impacted by these changes to discuss their options.

No more emotional-support hamsters

The Transportation Department cleared the way for the crackdown against companion animals on December 2, aiming to settle years of tension between airlines and passengers who bring their pets on board for free by saying they need them for emotional support.

The department has long required airlines to allow animals with passengers who had a doctor’s note saying they needed the animal for emotional support. Airlines believed passengers abused the rule to bring a menagerie of animals on board including cats, turtles, pigs, and in one case, a peacock.

The agency said Wednesday that it was rewriting the rules partly because passengers carrying unusual animals on board “eroded the public trust in legitimate service animals.” It also cited the increasing frequency of people “fraudulently representing their pets as service animals” and a rise in misbehavior by emotional-support animals.

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The new rule will force passengers with emotional-support animals to check them into the cargo hold—and pay a pet fee—or leave them at home. The agency estimated airlines will gain up to $59.6 million a year in pet fees. Under the final rule, which takes effect in 30 days, a service animal is a dog trained to help a person with a physical or psychiatric disability. Advocates for veterans and others had pushed for inclusion of psychiatric service dogs.

Airlines will be able to require owners to vouch for the dog’s health, behavior, and training. Airlines can require people with a service dog to turn in paperwork up to 48 hours before a flight, but they can’t bar those travelers from checking in online like other passengers.

Airlines can require that service dogs to be leashed at all times, and they can bar dogs that show aggressive behavior. There have been incidents of emotional-support animals biting passengers. The Transportation Department stood by an earlier decision to prohibit airlines from banning entire dog breeds.

This story was originally published December 18, 2020. It has been updated January 8, 2021, with additional reporting by Laura Dannen Redman.

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