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American and Alaska Airlines New Service Animal Policies

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Last month, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized a ruling amending the requirements US airline carriers have to follow in relation to service animals. 

The central adjustment in this ruling dealt with the classification of a service animal. 

Specifically, the DOT’s new definition of a service animal does not recognize emotional support animals. 

service dog on American plane

Under the previous definition, in which emotional support animals were defined as service animals, travelers were not required to pay a fee to bring the animal on-board.

Subsequently, US airline carriers are now beginning to modify their service animal policies to align with the DOT’s ruling. 

Alaska Airlines was the first carrier to announce its revisions, with American Airlines providing their updated policies shortly after.

Alaska AIrlines plane landing

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has updated its service animal policy to no longer accept emotional support animals on flights, effective January 11th

The airlines will only accept transport service dogs which are specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.

Speaking on the decision, Alaska Airlines Director of Customer Advocacy Ray Prentice stated:

“This regulatory change is welcome news, as it will help us reduce disturbances onboard, while continuing to accommodate our guests traveling with qualified service animals.”

Alaska will now accept a maximum of two service dogs per guest. Passengers traveling with service dogs will be required to complete a DOT form. 

The form will require attestation that the animal is a legitimate service dog, is trained, vaccinated and will behave appropriately on the flight. 

Travelers will need to submit the form via email if they make reservations more than 48 hours prior to departure, or in person upon arrival if the reservation was made less than 48 hours prior to travel. 

The airlines will continue to accept emotional support animals for flights booked prior to January 11th that will depart on or before February 28th 2021. 

Alaska Airlines will refuse travel for emotional support animals after that date.

American Airlines

American Airlines announced changes to policies regarding service animals earlier this week. 

Effective January 11th, American will no longer authorize travel for emotional support animals as service animals. 

Existing bookings for emotional support animals will be honored through February 1st 2021.

Animals which previously traveled as emotional support animals may still qualify as carry-on pets or cargo-pets, as long as they meet the requirements.

american airlines

Beginning February 1st, travelers with service animals will be required to complete a DOT form attesting the animal’s behavior, training and health. 

The airline requires the form to be completed electronically 48 hours in advance of a flight.

American Airlines will authorize the service animal for a period of one year or until the expiration of its vaccinations upon completion of the DOT form. 

American states the revisions are made to align with the DOT’s ruling and are intended to support customers with disabilities and their service animals, as well as maintaining the safety of their employees.

Female traveler in mask on plane

Speaking on the changes in policy, American Airlines President of Cargo and Vice President of Airport Excellence Jessica Tyler remarked:

“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. 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.”

American Airlines is currently reaching out to customers that are expected to be impacted by the changes.

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Stephen White

Wednesday 6th of January 2021

Welcome news. I hope all airlines follow suit. The very notion of an emotional support animal has always struck me as strange. I think that, like many things, it got out of hand and the airlines had to stop this practice.


Wednesday 6th of January 2021

"Emotional support animals" sounds ridiculous. Having poor control of your feelings is not a disability, it's a character flaw.