Alaska Airlines will ban all types of emotional support animal including the likes of miniature horses, pigs, peacocks and lizards beginning January 11, 2021, following a ruling from the Department of Transport earlier this month that gave airlines a lot more control over what’s types of animals they allow onboard.
Alaska appears to have become the first airline to take advantage of the changes to the Air Carrier Access Act which regulates the transportation of service animals onboard commercial airlines. Rivals will likely follow in the days and weeks ahead.
The DOT ruled that airlines can only be obliged to carry service animals (not emotional support animals) for free in the passenger cabin and only dogs can be classed as service animals. The change brings the Air Carrier Access Act inline with the Department of Justice’s definition of a service animal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Emotional support animals have become a major issue for airlines in recent years with some passengers taking advantage of the rules to transport their pets for free. Delta Air Lines says cases of urination, defecation, biting and even a serious mauling by emotional support animals rose 84 per cent between 2016 and 2020.
Delta even claimed some passengers were “ignoring the true intent of existing rules”, perhaps in part to game the system by avoiding hefty pet carriage fees. It’s a fear shared by other airlines who have witnessed a massive rise in the number of animals misbehaving on their aircraft, injuring passengers and crew, and damaging aircraft interiors.
Ray Prentice, director of customer advocacy at Alaska Airlines, however, said the rule change shouldn’t have an impact on passengers travelling with a trained service dog: “This regulatory change is welcome news,” Prentice commented. “It will help us reduce disturbances onboard, while continuing to accommodate our guests traveling with qualified service animals.”
Alaska will now only accept a maximum of two qualified service animals per animal. The definition includes psychiatric service dogs and owners must submit an official DOT form attesting that their animal is a legitimate service dog, is trained and vaccinated.
Emotional support animals will continue to be accepted for passengers who book a flight before January 11 and fly on or before February 28, 2021. After that date, Alaska Airlines will only accept other animals as pets and will charge a fee for their carriage.
At present, none of the big three U.S. airlines – American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines – have updated their service animal carriage policies and are still accepting emotional support animals.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.