Alaska Airlines To Ban Emotional Support Animals From January 11, But There’s A Loophole

Posted Dec 29, 2020

Alaska Airlines has made the first move, announcing its intentions to ban emotional support animals in line with a recent decision made by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In a release, they said that effective January 11, 2021, the airline will no longer facilitate emotional support animals. They will only allow transport service dogs “which are specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.” However, there is one loop hole that dog owners may be able to take advantage of.

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Earlier this month the DOT said it will no longer require airlines to make the same accommodations for emotional support animals as is required for trained service dogs. Changes to the DOT rules came after feedback from the airline industry and disability community regarding numerous instances of emotional support animal misbehavior which caused injuries, health hazards and damage to aircraft cabins.

“This regulatory change is welcome news, as it will help us reduce disturbances onboard, while continuing to accommodate our guests traveling with qualified service animals,” said Ray Prentice, director of customer advocacy at Alaska Airlines.

Under the revised policy, Alaska will accept a maximum of two service dogs per guest in the cabin, to include psychiatric service dogs. Guests will be required to complete a DOT form, which will be available on AlaskaAir.com beginning January 11, attesting that their animal is a legitimate service dog, is trained and vaccinated and will behave appropriately during the journey. For reservations booked more than 48 hours prior to travel, guests must submit the completed form via email. For reservations booked less than 48 hours prior to travel, guests must submit the form in person to the Customer Service Agent upon arrival at the airport.

The DOT’s decision to allow airlines to ban emotional support animals has sparked huge debate, but it’s good to see that there is now a policy in place to prevent passengers from going overboard. In the past, passengers have brought on pets including peacocks, monkeys, kangaroos, snakes, and even penguins. Extreme much?

Those booked with emotional support animals prior to the January 11 date will be accommodated until February 28, 2021.

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Alaska will continue to accept emotional support animals under its current policy for reservations booked prior to Jan. 11, 2021, for flights on or before Feb. 28, 2021. No emotional support animals will be accepted for travel after Feb, 28, 2021.

Dog owners can still take advantage of a loop hole

In the release, Alaska also said that “psychiatric service dogs” will still be allowed. This opens up a big loop hole as psychiatric service dogs will not require any form of third-party verification. According to the DOT, “Psychiatric service animals are treated the same as other service animals that are individually trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.”

It is our understanding that the vast majority of emotional support animals are dogs, and dogs can be task-trained to perform many different tasks and functions. We also note that the rule does not require service animal users to incur the cost of training by third party schools or organizations; service animal users are free to train their own dogs to perform a task or function for them.

Psychiatric service animal users will no longer be required to provide a letter from a licensed mental health professional detailing the passenger’s need for the animal, nor will they be required to check in one hour before the check-in time for other passengers.

The decision to no longer require documentation came after multiple parties suggested setting up a process to certify dogs as psychiatric service dogs could be extremely burdensome, on top of that fact that they found that it was very easy to acquire letters of verification from medical professionals for a fee.

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This means that while we won’t see anymore snakes or peacocks on board, there’s still a lot of room for small dog owners (under 20 pounds). The DOT did promise that checks will be put in place to prevent passengers from trying to pass off their dogs as psychiatric service dogs in cases when they are not qualified to.

The Department will, however, monitor whether unscrupulous individuals are attempting to pass off their pets as service animals for non-apparent disabilities, including (but not limited to) psychiatric disabilities. This process is not intended to single out or unduly burden psychiatric service animal users. Indeed, in the department’s notice of proposed rulemaking, the Department noted the possibility that individuals could also attempt to pass off their pets as service animals for non-apparent physical disabilities, such as diabetes. The Office of Aviation Consumer Protection welcomes the input and assistance of airlines, disability advocacy organizations, and other stakeholders on how best to conduct the monitoring to ensure accurate data.

We’ll see how that goes.

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[Featured Photo: Ken Cooper/StockSnap]

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