Airlines Crack Down On Service Animals
DALLAS — American Airlines says it will no longer allow emotional support animals and other pets on its planes that don’t meet strict service animal requirements for individuals with disabilities. The change was made after more lenient policies had frustrated flight attendants, disability support groups and airlines themselves.
The Fort Worth-based airline will start the stricter requirements for pets in the cabin on Jan. 11 and will soon require anyone traveling with a service animal to complete a federal form two days in advance.
The change comes after the U.S. Department of Transportation tightened rules for service animals in December, ending years of complaints from passengers and crew members about travelers flaunting service animal rules to fly with pets for free. Airlines were often left with little choice as federal law allows service animals for people with disabilities but had given little guidance on what a disability was or what kind of animals were appropriate.
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Now the new rule says a service animal is “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability” and that it “no longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal.”
Trained psychiatric service animals will still be permitted.
American Airlines follows Alaska Airlines, which said last week that it will ban the practice of transporting emotional support animals starting Jan. 11 as well.
American will still allow customers to transport small pets under 20 pounds in an approved carrier, but those animals will no longer be allowed to sit on customers’ laps during flights.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union for American’s flight attendants, had complained that emotional support animals were dangerous and unfair. The union said flight attendants had been bitten and snarled at by untrained animals.
“In an era when personal space on the aircraft is at an all-time minimum, there is not adequate room for animals that are not specifically trained and certified to assist their handler,” said a statement from APFA president Julie Hedrick when the DOT passed its rule. “More and more animals are encroaching on the personal space and comfort of other passengers.”
Over the years, passengers claimed exotic pets such as peacocks, kangaroos and snakes as emotional support animals. American and other airlines have moved recently to restrict more powerful dog breeds and other animals from access to flying with customers.
Travelers could purchase certifications on the internet for as little as $50 saying that they needed an emotional support animal for issues such as anxiety.
Veterans groups, disability advocates and flight attendants unions all lobbied DOT to amend its rules to allow airlines to take a stricter stance.
“Our team is motivated by a purpose to care for people on life’s journey, and we believe these policy changes will improve our ability to do just that,” said a statement from Jessica Tyler, American’s president of cargo and vice president of airport excellence. “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.”
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