American Airlines has become the latest carrier to update its policy on emotional support animals as many airlines report a rise in in-flight animal incidents. The new policy goes into effect July 1.
Under the new rules, American said it will now enforce the existing 48 hour advance notice and pre-clearance policy for emotional support animals. It is also restricting additional animal types, including insects, hedgehogs and goats.
Emotional support animals will be able to fly in the cabin at no charge if they are able to fit at a passenger’s feet, under their seat or in their lap. (Animals seated on a lap must be smaller than a two-year-old child.) Customers flying with an emotional support animal won’t be able to sit in an exit row. Emotional support and service animals also can’t protrude into or block aisles; occupy a seat; or eat from tray tables.
Emotional support and service animals must also be trained to behave properly in public, American said. They must be tethered by a leash and / or harness and under the guest’s control at all times. Animals won’t be permitted in the cabin if they display any form of disruptive behavior that can’t be successfully corrected or controlled, including but not limited to:
- Biting or attempting to bite
- Jumping on or lunging at people
If disruptive behavior is observed at any point during the journey, American said, and it isn’t corrected or controlled, the animal will be considered a pet and all pet requirements and applicable fees will apply.
For emotional support animals, customers must contact the Special Assistance Desk with all required documentation at least 48 hours before their flight. This includes a Mental Health Professional Form completed by the guest’s licensed mental health professional and behavior guidelines. For flights scheduled to be over eight hours, guests must also provide an animal sanitation form.
For trained service animals, customers need to provide documentation stating that the animal won’t need to relieve itself or can do so in a way that doesn’t create a health or sanitation issue for flights scheduled to be over eight hours.
As with policy updates by fellow carriers United Airlines and Delta, American said that it has seen an increase in customers transporting a service or support animal onboard, with a jump of more than 40 percent between 2016 and 2017. The airline also has released a video blog outlining the thinking behind its decision:
Both United Airlines and Delta have issued similar rules regarding emotional support animals, including requirements for documentation 48 hours prior to travel. Delta’s updated policy initially covered trained service animals as well, but the airline loosened those requirements after disability advocacy groups claimed that they were too burdensome for customers with disabilities who needed to travel for an emergency, and that service animals receive training that rendered the rules unnecessary.