Airlines Begin Banning Emotional Support Animals

The Department of Transportation (DOT) revealed new rules regarding transporting animals by air last month. Airlines are no longer required to accommodate emotional support animals (ESA) in the same manner as officially trained service animals.

Carriers have begun to apply these new regulations to domestic travelers. In late December, Alaska Airlines revealed they had changed their policy regarding animals traveling on airplanes. Starting on Feb. 28, ESAs will be banned from flying in aircraft.

However Alaska Airlines will allow small pets like dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits to travel in the airplanes’ cabin so long as they are in proper pet carriers. The airline will also continue to accommodate service animals using a form mandated by the DOT. The form is available both online and at the airports.

A service animal is defined by the DOT as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.”

The revisions Alaska Airlines have made only effect its policy regarding service animals, and how emotional support animals will be categorized and accommodated by the airline. Emotional support animals had previously been allowed into passenger cabins like service animals. However the ESA rule has been abused over the past few years. Passengers have continued to bring increasingly more exotic animals onboard airplanes. Unconventional animals like turkeys, and pigs as well as untrained dogs have been allowed on planes, and have caused disruptions.

The airline industry has been under a lot of pressure since these emotional support animals are often unpredictable. Before December airline carriers have been independently creating and implementing policies, but the DOT and the airlines are creating formal guidelines.

In 2018, American Airlines created messages and videos specifically about ESAs, its guidelines for ESA’s, and what travelers with animals should expect. However as the airline’s rules continued to be stretched, the carrier furthered its definition of emotional support animals and how these animals would be accommodated.

Airline carriers are now able to apply more restrictions to their policies for ESAs with the DOT’s ruling. The first carrier to make a change is Alaska Airlines.

Passengers can still make bookings with through Jan. 11. ESA’s will officially be banned from flying starting on Feb. 28.