Back in December, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced new revisions to its Air Carrier Access Act, indicating that it would no longer consider emotional support animals to be service animals. The move started a domino effect, resulting in just about every major US airline changing their policies regarding the transportation of what they now consider to be nothing more than standard pets. This is bad news for anyone who suffers mild flight anxiety — who wouldn’t rather fly in a plane with their buddy?! — but great news for anyone who doesn’t want to hear a dog barking on a seven-hour flight.
All jokes aside, this is a tricky matter to parse. People with real anxieties and in need of genuine emotional support deserve to be accommodated. But passengers have long been (blatantly!) abusing the emotional support animal loophole to get their untrained furry friends a free trip in the cabin. With the new policies in place, it’ll be easier for airlines to continue to accommodate legitimate service animals — which the DOT defines as “a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability” — while weeding out the pretenders.
It’s worth noting that airlines are required to treat psychiatric service animals the same as other service animals. So people with genuine mental health needs won’t be left in the cold.
Each airline’s individual policy is slightly different, so we’ll run through each of the major carriers below. Keep in mind that due to Covid-19 safety requirements, many airlines aren’t transporting caged pets right now at all. If an airline isn’t featured here, just assume they haven’t made an announcement (yet).
Alaska Airlines now only offers permits for, “service dogs trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.” Emotional support animals will no longer be accepted after February 28th, 2021.
All service animals must be seated on the floor space below a guest’s seat, or seated in the guest’s lap, if needed.
All travelers must submit a current DOT Service Animal Air Transportation form at least 48 hours prior to travel. Service animals in training will still be able to travel free of charge.
Fully-trained service dogs may fly in the cabin at no charge. American Airlines defines a service animal explicitly as a dog that’s trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including those with visual impairments, deafness, seizures, mobility impairments, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Service animals in training, emotional support animals, and comfort animals must now travel as pets and meet American Airlines’ pet storage qualifications and fees.
Please note that due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, American’s Checked Pet Service is currently suspended.
Since January 11th, Delta no longer recognizes emotional support animals as service animals, and will only allow trained dogs to operate as service animals, though there aren’t any restrictions on the breed of the dog. All travelers flying with a service animal must complete a DOT form 48 hours before their travels.
For travel booked less than 48 hours prior to departure, customers must present a DOT form at the check-in counter or departure gate.
As of February 1, 2021, Frontier no longer accepts emotional support animals onboard. All non-certified service animals must fly as pets for a one-way fee of $99. Pets may not be checked as baggage and must fit in a container with the dimensions 18” length x 14” width x 8’ height. Trained service dogs are still allowed in the cabin uncaged.
Jet Blue permits trained service dogs only, with the required DOT documentation submitted 48 hours prior to flight. Service animals in training will not be accepted for travel. Passengers may bring two service animals, but both animals must fit within the footprint of the seats you have purchased.
Animals must remain on the floor unless they are small enough to fit fully on the traveler’s lap without touching the seat, tray table, or nearby traveler.
Beginning on March 1st, Southwest will ban all emotional support animals and begin to only permit trained and certified service dogs. Passengers may still bring small dogs and cats on flights for a $95 one way fee, but the pets must be vaccinated and stay in a carrier for the entire duration of the flight.
Emotional support animals must now fly on Spirit under the airline’s Pets Policy. Dogs, cats, household birds, and rabbits are the only pets allowed to fly on Spirit, and they must stay in pet containers for the duration of the flight.
Documented service dogs are permitted to fly for free.
United now requires completed DOT forms for each service animal traveling with passengers. United defines a service animal as a dog — regardless of breed or type — over the age of 4 months individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified disabled individual.
Qualified passengers are permitted to travel with a maximum of two service animals. Service animals must sit on the floor in front of the customer’s assigned seat. United will lift their previous ban on pit bull breeds.
All non-service animals — which includes emotional support animals — may fly in a kennel for a service charge of $125 one way.