American Airlines grounds emotional-support animals from flights


HONOLULU (KHON2, AP, Nexstar Media Wire) — American Airlines became the second major U.S. carrier to ban emotional support animals in cabins on board its flights starting next week.

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Just last week, Alaska Airlines made the same announcment.

Ray Prentice, the Director of Customer Advocacy for Alaska Airlines, said the rule change was a response to a problem that happens all the time in the airline industry.

When we were running a full flight schedule there wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t have an incident with an emotional support animal that was not behaving.

Ray Prentice, Director of Customer Advocacy for Alaska Airlines

The airline’s decisions on emotional support animals comes after the Department of Transportation (DOT) recently ruled that emotional support animals are not considered to be service animals on flights.

The DOT also stated that it, “defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.”

Matthew Lorin, the Executive Director of Hawaii Fido Service Dogs said the decision by Alaska Airlines and American Airlines is a relief for those who rely on service animals because untrained pets can create a real risk for those with a disability.

“It is an anxiety provoking activity, Lorin said. “You can imagine taking it to the extreme. People who rely on their animals for balance. If their animal is distracted or another animal onboard is aggressive, that is a nontrivial event.”

Prentice, with Alaska Airlines, said unfortunately too many people often claim their pets as emotional support animals when they are untrained.

“The problem was that was stigmatizing the traditional service animal users who have very trained animals who behave perfectly on the plane,” he explained. “It was causing a situation where the emotional support animals were actually attacking the service animals.”

Emotional support animals that no longer qualify to fly in cabin as a service animal free of charge, can still travel as a pet in-cabin or in cargo, but owners will have to pay extra for that.

American will collect a pet fee ranging from $125 to several hundred dollars.

American Airlines said Tuesday that it will allow animals in the cabin free of charge only if they are trained service dogs. The change takes effect Monday, although passengers who already bought tickets can fly with a companion animal until Feb. 1.

The U.S. Transportation Department cleared the way for the crackdown against companion animals last month.

American said passengers with a service dog will need to complete a government form vouching for the dog’s health, training and temperament.

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

The number of passengers flying with companion animals grew rapidly in recent years, with some saying the animals helped them overcome anxiety and other issues. Passengers only needed a note from a health professional, and a cottage industry sprang up to provide those notes along with vests and other accoutrements for their animals.

Airlines and particularly flight attendants took a more critical view, saying passengers were exploiting a loophole in federal regulations to avoid pet fees. In a few cases, including some involving serious injuries, companion animals bit other passengers.

Last month, the Transportation Department settled the matter, siding mostly with the airlines. It said carriers were free to ban any animal other than dogs formally trained to help people with physical or psychological disabilities.

The department estimated that under the new rules airlines will scoop up $59.6 million a year in pet fees.

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