Airways Crack Down On Service Animals

Several airlines have introduced new rules for service animals on airplanes after years of complaints. (Thinkstock)

DALLAS – American Airlines says it will no longer allow emotional support animals and other pets on its aircraft that do not meet strict service animal requirements for people with disabilities. The change came after more lenient guidelines frustrated flight attendants, disability groups and airlines themselves.

The Fort Worth-based airline will begin its stricter in-cabin pet requirements on Jan. 11, and will soon require anyone traveling with a service pet to fill out a federal form two days in advance.

The change comes after the U.S. Department of Transportation tightened service animal rules in December, ending years of complaints from passengers and crew members about travelers flaunting the rules for service animals to travel with pets for free. Airlines often had no choice, as federal law allows service animals for people with disabilities, but has given little guidance on what a disability is or what type of animals is appropriate.

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The new rule now states that a service animal is “a dog that is individually trained to perform work or tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability” and that “an animal for emotional support is no longer considered a service animal”.

Trained psychiatric service animals are still allowed.

American Airlines follows Alaska Airlines, which announced last week that it would also ban the transportation of animals with emotional support from January 11th.

American continues to allow customers to move small pets under 20 pounds on an approved carrier, but these animals will no longer be allowed to sit on customers’ laps during flights.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union of American flight attendants, had complained that animals with emotional support were dangerous and unfair. The union said flight attendants were bitten and growled at by untrained animals.

“At a time when personal space on the plane is lower than ever before, there is not enough space for animals that are not specially trained and certified to support their handlers,” said a statement by the APFA President Julie Hedrick, when the DOT passed his rule. “More and more animals intervene in the personal space and comfort of other passengers.”

Over the years, passengers have claimed exotic pets such as peacocks, kangaroos, and snakes as emotional support animals. American and other airlines recently relocated to keep higher performing dog breeds and other animals from having access to flying with customers.

Travelers have been able to earn certifications on the internet for just $ 50 indicating they need an emotional support animal on issues like fear.

Veterans groups, disability advocates and flight attendant unions have all campaigned for DOT to change its rules to allow airlines to adopt a stricter stance.

“Our team is motivated to take care of people on the journey of life, and we believe these policy changes will improve our ability to do just that,” said Jessica Tyler, president of cargo and vice president of airport excellence, in a statement in the USA. “We are confident that with this approach we can better serve our customers, especially people with disabilities who travel with service animals, and better protect our team members at the airport and on the plane.”

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