American Airlines: No more "emotional support animals" for you

I’m generally not in favor of travel bans on American citizens, but American Airlines is putting one in place that I can probably get behind. After attempting any number of compromises with the traveling public, the airline is putting an end to passengers traveling with “emotional support animals.” Exceptions will be made for registered service dogs for the disabled. This long-overdue change will take effect on January 11. No reason for the change was given as part of the announcement, but it should be fairly obvious to frequent fliers. (Associated Press)

American Airlines is banning emotional-support animals in a move that will force most owners to pay extra if they want their pets to travel with them.

The airline said Tuesday that it will allow animals in the cabin free of charge only if they are trained service dogs. The change takes effect Monday, although passengers who already bought tickets can fly with a companion animal until Feb. 1.

The move follows a similar decision by Alaska Airlines and is likely to be copied by other carriers. The U.S. Transportation Department cleared the way for the crackdown against companion animals last month.

To be fair, it wasn’t the fault of the airlines that all of this nonsense has been going on. The federal Department of Transportation had left a rule in place for years saying that the general category of “support animals” could include virtually any animal that fit in the cabin as long as the traveler had a note from a health professional. That rule was curtailed in December, allowing only certified, trained support dogs to fly for free.

This has always been a somewhat difficult topic for me because my wife and I have always kept both cats and dogs as part of our family. Cats are independent enough to leave for several days at a time if you can find someone to come by and feed them every day. But dogs are far harder to deal with unless you want to drop them off with a relative, friend or a boarding kennel. I would dearly love to take my dog on the plane with us, but I know that’s generally unfair to the rest of the passengers. When we traveled from New York to Tennessee in 2018 to see the eclipse, we elected to drive there instead of flying just so our dog could come along.

The problem is that this entire “emotional support animal” concept was subject to massive abuse. People were showing up on flights with animals that were obviously just their pets, not legitimate support animals. They take up extra room and some are very poorly behaved. I have personally seen a dog peeing in the aisle on a flight. Also, there were scams running where you could order a certificate online for a fee, supposedly showing that your animal was “required for emotional support.”

Not to sound too harsh here, but if you are that emotionally fragile that you can’t get on a plane without your dog, cat, turtle, pot-bellied pig, or peacock, you should just stay out of airports. Flying is stressful enough for all of us, particularly now, with the threat of the pandemic hanging over the cramped economy-class cabins.

Alaska Airlines has already made a similar change to its rules. Here’s hoping that the rest of the major carriers follow suit in short order.