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American Airlines bans emotional support animals

CBS News logo CBS News 1/5/2021 Kate Gibson
a dog looking at the camera: Airlines Service Animals © Julio Cortez / AP Airlines Service Animals

American Airlines will no longer allow emotional support animals to travel on its planes other than as carry-on pets or in the cargo. The carrier is adopting a Department of Transportation rule that takes effect next week. It defines a service animal as a dog trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, a narrower definition than in the past. 

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"When the rule goes into effect January 11, American will no longer authorize new travel for animals that do not meet that definition, such as emotional support animals," the airline announced Tuesday in a news release. 

The airline said existing bookings involving emotional support animals will be honored through February 1, when the company's new policies go into effect.

Animals that had previously traveled as emotional support animals and no longer qualify as service animals can travel as carry-on pets or in the cargo provided they meet the airline's requirements, American added. The airline will collect a pet fee ranging from $125 to several hundred dollars for transporting pets, according to the Associated Press.

"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, president of cargo and vice president of airport excellence for American, said in a statement.

Alaska Airlines a week ago also said it would no longer accept emotional support animals. Other airlines are also expected to adopt the new policy. 

The Transportation Department early last month said it was reversing its long-held position that required airlines to allow passengers to travel with emotional support animals as long they had note from a doctor.

a bird standing on a table: "Emotional support" peacock denied flight 01:07 © Provided by CBS News "Emotional support" peacock denied flight 01:07

The agency's switch follows an increase in service animal complaints from passengers with disabilities, misbehavior by emotional support animals, a lack of clarity around the definition of "service animal" and disruptions caused by "requests to transport unusual species of animals onboard aircraft," according to the DOT.

Airlines for years have struggled to contend with travelers who brought a menagerie of animals on board, including cats, turtles, pigs and other creatures.

High-profile incidents involving animals on flights include police being called to remove a woman with an emotional support squirrel from a 2018 Frontier Airlines flight and United Airlines bouncing a passenger who wanted to bring a peacock on board.

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