American Airlines Emotional Support & Service Animal Policy Changes January 11, 2021

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The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a rule on December 2nd (read more here) that airlines in the US would no longer be required to transport Emotional Support Animals (ESA) and they only need to accept trained dogs as service animals.

American Airlines announced yesterday that it would only accept emotional support animals through February 1, 2021, for existing bookings. The airline won’t authorize travel for service animals that don’t meet the updated DOT guidelines from January 11.

You can access American Airlines here.

Here’s the announcement from American:

American Airlines Announces Changes to Policies for Travel with Emotional Support Animals, Service Animals

American Airlines today announced forthcoming changes to its policies and procedures for travel with emotional support animals and service animals, aligning with regulations recently issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The new policies and procedures are intended to support customers with disabilities and the service animals that travel with them, as well as the team members who work to keep customers safe.

“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,” said Jessica Tyler, President of Cargo and Vice President of Airport Excellence for American. “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.”

The DOT’s new rule defines a service animal as a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability — a narrower definition than in the past. When the rule goes into effect Jan. 11, American will no longer authorize new travel for animals that do not meet that definition, such as emotional support animals. Existing bookings involving emotional support animals will be honored through Feb. 1, when the airline’s new policies go into effect.

Starting Feb. 1, to ensure accessible travel for individuals with disabilities while protecting the safety and well-being of customers and team members, American will ask customers traveling with service animals to complete a DOT form attesting to the dog’s behavior, training and health. The airline will require this form to be submitted electronically 48 hours in advance of a flight, unless the reservation is booked within 48 hours of travel. A service animal’s authorization will be valid for one year or until the expiration of its vaccinations.

Animals that previously traveled as emotional support animals and no longer qualify as service animals may travel as carry-on pets or as cargo pets, as long as they meet the requirements.

American is reaching out to customers who are expected to be impacted by these changes. The service animal forms, along with additional details about the airline’s new policy, will be available on aa.com in the coming days.

Conclusion

It was unfortunate that DOT had to make this ruling, but passengers abused ESA’s a lot (from turkeys to snakes), and most were not trained at all.

I would assume that all the US airlines will institute similar rules (now American and Alaska have) that follow the DOT’s policy change.

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