Alaska and American airlines have announced they are banning emotional support animals.
Those creatures are not to be confused with service animals, which the Department of Transportation said last month was dogs only.
The difference between an emotional support animal and a service dog focuses on training. Emotional support animals often turn out to be the family pet, disguised with a vest and documents that can be faked. They may be special to the owner, but when it comes to special skills, they usually don’t measure up.
Service animals, on the other hand, undergo extensive training that helps the animal provide assistance and perform tasks that benefit its owner. Such dogs and dogs in training ride free on a plane and must fit in a designated space.
In its Dec. 2 announcement, the DOT said it “no longer considers an emotional support animal to be a service animal.” The rule took effect Monday.
Alaska Airlines will allow emotional support animals to travel in the cabin if reservations were made before Jan. 11 for flights before Feb. 28. American is banning emotional support animals as of Feb. 1.
And Delta will no longer accept reservations for emotional support animals after Jan. 11.
That doesn’t mean your pet can’t travel in the cabin. Airlines do allow crated animals to fly in the cabin, but you must pay for their passage.
Alaska, for instance, will allow five animals in crates in the main cabin and one in premium class. The fee? It’s $100 each way on Alaska. Your pet must remain in its crate and will not be allowed to sit in an empty seat.
Not all airlines are on the same page about emotional support animals versus service dogs, so consult with your carrier before making a reservation.
The DOT’s revision was years in the making. As the number of emotional support animals grew along with the number of incidents involving bad animal behavior, so did the urgency for changes.
Rory Diamond, chief executive of K9s for Warriors, knows the value of a well-trained animal, thanks to his work teaming dogs with veterans. “Dogs react to each other,” he said, but “two service dogs don’t. We can put 10 service dogs in a van and have no problems at all.”
Untrained animals aren’t equipped to deal with the challenges of air travel, said Carol Borden, founder and chief executive of Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, a nonprofit that raises, trains and donates medical service dogs to people with a variety of conditions.
She hopes people will see such situations from the untrained dog’s perspective. “You have traumatized a dog that’s never been in a plane,” she said, and that is unfamiliar “with the sound, sights and smell — the way dogs process information.”
And, she asked, “Who’s training the person? So often (that person) does not know what proper dog etiquette is.”
Here’s to everyone — animals, their humans, airlines and travelers — behaving well in 2021.