First United Airlines barred an emotional support peacock from boarding. Now American Airlines is telling passengers some of their service and emotional support animals — including goats, hedgehogs and tusked creatures — can’t fly.
The carrier is joining rival airlines in tightening rules for passengers flying with emotional support animals, expanding the list of animals that can’t fly in addition to requiring customers vouch for their animal’s ability to behave.
Federal laws require airlines to permit passengers with disabilities to travel with service and emotional support animals in the cabin, though airlines can require a statement from a licensed mental health professional documenting the passenger’s need for an emotional support animal.
American said the new rules are designed to protect passengers with legitimate needs for service and support animals while avoiding problems with untrained animals in the cabin.
Under the new rules, which go into effect July 1, American is adding amphibians, goats, hedgehogs, insects, nonhousehold birds and animals with tusks, horns or hooves to the list of those that can’t fly as service or support animals. The airline will make an exception for miniature horses that have trained as service animals.
Both service and support animals fly in the cabin for free, unlike household pets, for which American charges a $125 fee. But emotional support animals don’t always have the specialized training service animals receive, and some suspect at least certain flyers use the designation to skirt rules governing household pets.
American will enforce requirements that customers traveling with support animals submit extra documentation at least 48 hours before their flights, with exemptions for emergency travel.
Passengers will have to sign a form promising their animal can behave properly in addition to submitting a signature from a mental health care professional.
Animals seen growling, biting, attempting to bite, jumping on or lunging at people without being corrected or controlled will be considered pets subject to the appropriate rules and fees, American said. The airline won’t charge a passenger retroactively if a support animal misbehaves, but it will step in if the passenger and animal haven’t finished their trip, airline spokesman Ross Feinstein said.
Unlike Delta Air Lines and Chicago-based United, American won’t require passengers with support or service animals to submit animal health and vaccination forms. United also asks a veterinarian to document whether the animal has ever bitten, scratched or attacked a person.
Delta and United announced stricter rules earlier this year, citing an uptick in problems with support animals misbehaving and causing disturbances on board as their numbers have grown. At the time, American said it was still reviewing its policies.
American wanted to take its time to seek input from disability advocacy groups before rolling out the new rules, Feinstein said. Other than the broadened list of animals that can’t be brought on board, the new policy doesn’t affect passengers traveling with trained service animals, American said.
In a video on the airline’s website, Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, an advocacy group for the visually impaired, thanked the airline for “evaluating the process so we can ensure that only service animals that are legitimate are able to board the plane.”
When people try to “pass off” pets as support animals, it can make travel more challenging for passengers with trained service animals, particularly if they have a disability that isn’t readily apparent, Rizzi said.
United’s announcement of its policy changes came shortly after its decision to bar an emotional support peacock drew attention, but the airline said the move wasn’t prompted by any specific incident. Delta referenced an incident last year where a passenger was reportedly attacked by a seatmate’s emotional support dog on a flight leaving Atlanta.
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune