American Airlines is no longer allowing emotional support animals: fair or not?

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I’m sure many of you saw the headlines that American Airlines would no longer allow emotional support animals on flights. I was surprised how many people were in favor of this news, because I thought it meant no more support animals of any kind on flights, which also sounds like it went against several laws. But then I read the actual decision and now I’m on the side of those who think this is a good thing. AA is complying with a U.S. Department of Transportation ruling on traveling by air with service animals and ensuring a safer, more comfortable flight for the all passengers and flight attendants. In short, the new restrictions require the animals on board to be registered or documented service animals and to be contained in a way that doesn’t interfere with the other people on the flight.

American Airlines is changing its rules when it comes to emotional service animals (ESAs).

The airline announced Tuesday that it will no longer allow animals that do not meet the Department of Transportation’s definition of a service animal, including ESAs. Instead, they will be able to travel as carry-on pets or cargo pets.

“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,” Jessica Tyler, American Airlines’ president of cargo and vice president of airport excellence, said in a statement.

“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,” Tyler added.

[From People]

You can read the USDOT’s final ruling here. AA will honor current ESA bookings through the end of January. This clears up a lot of my misconceptions. A trained service animal is never a problem on a flight but many of us have heard horror stories about people with untrained service animals or worse, bringing an animal and lying about it being an ESA just to keep it on their lap. Flying is traumatic on animals and sometimes being in a carrier under the seat is the most humane thing you can do for them in that situation. A freaked-out dog at 30,000 ft going after a flight attendant is a horror movie waiting to be written. Plus, bringing back proper documentation and certification, and requiring those forms be submitted 48 hours prior to flights, will allow those with service pets to check-in online once again. Until this decision, they had to check-in in person so the pet could be cleared by the airline. Honestly, I think this is better for everyone on board.

However, I know it’s traumatic to travel with your pets in cargo and it’s expensive to buy them a seat on the flight. In addition, there are people who don’t have certified ESAs but find air travel less fraught with a therapy animal. I wish there could be something like a therapy dog flight, where dogs get to travel the globe on flights and just be available to folks flying, like they have in hospitals. Or you could have Dog Friendly Flights, along with Cat Friendly flights and Kid Friendly flights so you don’t have to feel bad if you baby is teething and crying throughout. Obviously, we’d need an annual Snake Friendly flight hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I know there has to be a better way to travel for animals but for now, I think streamlining the ESA procedure will, in the long run, be less stressful for all involved.

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