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Alaska Airlines will be first to ban emotional-support animals

  • Author: Shannon McMahon, The Washington Post
  • Updated: December 30, 2020
  • Published December 30, 2020

A cat sits in its carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Industry officials believe many passengers scam the system by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

Alaska Airlines is the first U.S. carrier to ban emotional support animals on its flights following a Department of Transportation ruling that airlines will only be required to transport service dogs.

Beginning Jan. 11, the airline will allow only service dogs that are “specially trained” and will refuse transport to emotional support animals.

The DOT rule change came early this month following the agency’s decision to revise its Air Carrier Access legislation because passengers have for years been requesting airlines accept their “service” pigs, rabbits and peacocks. Until now, the department had not defined what constituted a service animal, and all emotional support animals were federally required to be permitted on planes.

In 2017, the trade group Airlines for America estimated that the number of emotional support animals traveling on commercial flights increased to 751,000, a sharp rise from the 481,000 seen the year before.

“Following recent changes to U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) rules, Alaska Airlines will no longer accept emotional support animals on its flights,” the airline said in a news release. “Alaska will only transport service dogs, which are specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.”

On its website, the airline states that size of all service dogs allowed onboard “must not exceed the footprint or personal space of the guest’s seat or foot area during the entire flight.” The service dog must also be leashed at all times, is expected to “behave properly,” cannot occupy a seat or tray table and may not be under four months old.

The airline called the move a necessary step. “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,” Ray Prentice, director of customer advocacy at Alaska Airlines, said in the news release.

“The final rule announced today addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft,” DOT officials said in a statement announcing the rule change on Dec. 2.

Alaska Airlines flights will accept passengers who booked travel before Jan. 11 to bring an emotional support animal other than a dog only up until Mar. 1. The DOT originally took up the ban on service animals in January 2019.