American Airlines has become the second U.S. airline to ban emotional support animals after the Department for Transport (DOT) updated its rules and effectively binned the concept of ESA’s. Instead, airlines are now only obliged to recognise service animals, which can only ever be dogs, which are “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.”
The sweeping changes to the Air Carrier Access Act were first announced by the DOT in early December but it wasn’t until last Tuesday that Alaska Airlines became the first airline to take advantage and announce a ban on emotional support animals.
It was only a matter of time until other carriers followed suit and now American Airlines says it will strictly apply the DOT’s definition of what constitutes a service animal. The rule will come into effect for new bookings on January 11 but existing bookings will be honoured through February 1.
Airlines and employee unions have long campaigned for a change to emotional support animal rules claiming some passengers were gaming the system to avoid paying to transport their pets. Incidents of animals behaving badly had risen sharply in recent years with defecation, urination and aggressive behavior the most cited offences.
Jessica Tyler, American’s President of Cargo and Vice President of Airport Excellence said the policy shift would allow the airline to focus on passengers with disabilities and rely on trained service animals.
“We’re confident this approach will enable us to better serve our customers, particularly those with disabilities who travel with service animals, and better protect our team members at the airport and on the aircraft,” Tyler commented on Tuesday.
Service animals can still be trained to help with psychological disabilities, as well as physical disabilities.
That’s not to say that American will only allow service dogs onboard its flights beginning February 1. Instead, the airline will start charging customers a carry-on pet fee that starts at $125, although limitations will apply and the service won’t be available on all flights and for all types of animal.
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.