The issue has been hotly debated. Officials received more than 15,000 comments on the proposed rule after it was issued last January. The rule was finalized last month and goes into effect Jan. 11.
Federal officials have said the goal is to ensure safe and accessible travel. Others say they hope the change will bring order to a situation that threatened to undermine the credibility of those traveling with legitimate service animals.
The U.S. Department of Transportation now defines a service animal as a dog that has been “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”
The new rules limit the number of service animals a person may travel with to two and require individuals to file paperwork detailing their animal’s behavior, training and health status before they fly.
American Airlines, which outlined its new policy Tuesday, said it will stop accepting emotional support animals Feb. 1. Animals that previously traveled as emotional support animals may still accompany passengers as carry-on or cargo pets if they meet requirements, the airline said.
American said customers traveling with service animals must complete a special form attesting to the dog’s behavior, training and health 48 hours before their flight, unless the reservation is booked within 48 hours. That authorization will be valid for one year or until the expiration of its vaccinations.
“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,” Jessica Tyler, American’s president of cargo and vice president of airport excellence, said in a statement accompanying the new policy.
Officials at Alaska Airlines announced similar changes last week. The airline said it will continue to accept emotional support animals for reservations made before Jan. 11 for travel through Feb. 28. After that, emotional support animals will no longer be permitted.
“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, Alaska Airlines’ director of customer advocacy.
Other airlines, including Delta and Southwest, said they are in the process of updating their policies, but welcome the changes.
“This rule will allow airlines to put safety first for all of our customers and employees, while protecting the rights of customers who have disabilities and need to travel with trained service animals,” said Adrian Gee, a Delta Air Lines spokesman. “We are currently reviewing the new rule and will continue to work with Delta’s Advisory Board on Disability to implement it in a manner that improves the experience for all our customers.”
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