American Airlines Cracking Down on Emotional Support Animals — Going Way Beyond United, Delta

American Airlines has just announced a change to its policies on emotional support animals. And they’ve gone much farther than Delta or United.

Back in January Delta launched new procedures which were being covered as though they were a crackdown but in reality only amounted to requiring advance notice to travel with the animals, proof of health and vaccinations, and insisting passengers (merely) attest that their animal can behave.

Two weeks later United copied Delta’s policy right after a viral video of a peacock being denied carriage on United Airlines (and few at the time seemed to notice it was denied under the old policy!).

It was surprising at the time that we didn’t see anything out of American, copying United copying Delta. However I think the advance notice requirements that were being reported were problematic for American’s lawyers as they tried to reconcile doing something about emotional support animals with the requirements of the Air Carrier Access Act.

Now we see what American has done and they’ve gone far further than Delta or United — while offering a provision for last minute travel that wouldn’t have otherwise allowed for advance notice.

  • Animals have to fit under seat, at feet, or on lap No one with an emotional support animal can sit in an exit row.

  • No blocking of aisles, occupying a seat or eating from tray tables

  • Must leash and control the animal at all times. Animals who growl, attempt to bit, or lunge at people will be treated as pets “and all pet requirements and applicable fees will apply.” I’m not sure that this will be enforced except in the most egregious cases.

  • 48 hours advance notice although last minute travel can be booked inside this period with an emotional support animal.

  • Must have a form completed by a licensed mental health professional or a letter from the professional dated within a year of travel.

    The letter has to state there’s “a mental or emotional disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and are currently a patient” as well as “[s]how the need for emotional support or psychiatric service animal for air travel and /or activity at your destination” and “[p]rovide proof of their licensing as a mental health professional or medical doctor (including date, type and state of license).”

  • There’s also a behavioral guidelines form and an ‘animal sanitation form’ for 8+ hour flights where you have to say the animal won’t need to relieve itself during long haul travel.

In addition these animals are banned as support animals:

Amphibians Reptiles Sugar gliders
Ferrets Rodents Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game birds, & birds of prey)
Goats Snakes Animals with tusks, horns or hooves (excluding miniature horses properly trained as service animals)
Hedgehogs Spiders Any animal that is unclean / has an odor

American put together a podcast for employees explaining the new policy.

While what United and Delta have done are pretty weak sauce here, American’s policy is serious if it’s actually enforced. I’d still like to see a requirement for insurance on the part of the animal’s owner, in fact I’d rather have that in lieu of some of the paperwork-style hurdles that are being thrown in front of owners.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This is GLORIOUS news!! Thank you AA for breathing some sAAnity into this issue.

  2. Bravo, AA. The (pretending-to-be) emotional pet situation is becoming out of control.

  3. Fascinating. I have never heard of emotional support insects or spiders.

    I’m glad they ban “Any animal that is unclean / has an odor”, but what about passengers?

  4. If anybody wants a laugh, go online at Delta and actually work your way through registering a service animal. Some of the choices are hilarious (Has fangs? Is malodorous?).

  5. Can mini horses fit in a cage under the seat? How small are they making horses now!?

  6. I’m sure American has good attorneys but the requirement of the letter from a doctor stating a diagnosis would seem to violate the American with Disabilties Act of 1990 and violate healthcare privacy laws.

  7. Hmm… I might be pretty “malodorous” myself after 15+ hours in coach… and so might you.

  8. @James, my guess is that the passenger is basically telling the airline that he/she has such a condition by asking to bring the ESA on the plane. The airline is just asking for verification. As the passenger has already claimed the medical condition, the airline is permitted to ask for verification. They don’t ask for the specific diagnosis.

  9. What AA is doing is no different than the recent changes Delta has put in place.

    I travel with an ESA and this doesn’t change a thing for me really.

  10. My household animals/pets would no doubt like me to travel with them as THEIR emotional support, but I draw the line in sitting with them in the cargo hold, despite it being possibly more comfortable than basic coach.
    So, Fluffy, Rover and pals, you will be staying at home!

  11. I’m glad that Parker is allowing special dispensation inside 48 hours. Those who pay up should get exemption from irritating policies meant for the little people.

  12. My wife has a Canine Companions for Independence service dog. She does not fly with him. If she did you’d never know he was on the plane unless you happened to see him. He does not interact with people unless given a command to do so. He does not interact with other animals. The team does not invade the personal space of others. It cost an estimated $45K to breed and train him and it took two years to prepare the team for work. They are certified by Assistance Dogs International as all teams are. Certification lasts a maximum of 3 years. Teams are continuously re-evaluated, retested, and relicensed to be sure they are fit to perform the duties for which they have been trained.
    CCI teams carry $3 Million liability insurance policies.
    People who pretend their pets are ESAs are often a nusince and they can pose a serious risk to passengers because they are unprepared for the rigors of travel.
    If national certification could be developed and required for passengers traveling with ESAs it would help protect the public while recognizing the rights of those who have a legitimate need for an ESA.

  13. @Carl, you’re conflating two different standards.

    As to another issue, can I bring all 10 clones (Gary knows this is a true story) of my dog if each one is for a different emotional disability?

    I was thinking I could get them qualified as ESA’s because cloning your dog has to qualify as an emotional disability…. then sort of calling each additional dog part of the chain of support.

    NVM , Babs and I will get together discuss it

  14. Great news! It’s about time someone grew a set and started to control the whole ESA issue. As far as ESA’s go:
    I have one pant all over me and my inflight meal while in it’s owners lap and overhanging into my space (Delta)
    Watched an ESA pug dance the Pasodoble all over the tray table. That was my seat on the next leg. Wonder why I liberally swab down my seat area now? (Delta)
    Watched another ESA take a dump in the aisle (Delta).
    I am at the point now where, frankly, any sympathy I might have had over ESAs is long gone. Frankly, if you can’t get on a plane without cuddling little Fifi, maybe that’s why there’s the bus? Or, perhaps, you might try an emotional support teddy bear instead?
    In closing, how is it that when a peanut allergy sufferer is on board we all have to surrender our peanuts, BUT, we’re expected to suffer in wheezy silence when people drag on their ESA cats?

  15. It’s a first step in the right direction, but IMHO, but I think the insurance requirement Gary mentions would be a good second step. I’m all for licensed service animals who are properly trained for the job, but as it’s been mentioned here and elsewhere, it’s sadly those who abuse the ESA designation that have ruined it for those that may actually need and benefit from it. That said, all things being equal, if I’m weighing an AA, UA or Delta flight, AA is going to get my money now.

  16. Tha FAA should have acted on this years ago, when the abuses first began to receive national attention, with regulations carrying the force of law and insulating carriers from lawsuits for following them

  17. Insurance is a great idea in theory but in practice it would be a big biz overnight and be as cheap as a travel policy or sold as a package with it and within a few months the insurance claims and lawsuits would be outrageous! Can you say clogged courts?
    I’m glad I don’t have to worry about my neighbor carrying his snake or rat or whatever on plane.

  18. What a lot of people don’t realize is that AA has changed their forms and rules 3 times in the last 6 months. As someone who travels a lot, having to scramble and call my doctors and vet, and send off my forms hoping that I did them correctly and that AA will accept them again (I’ve flown with the same dog for years. Over 15 times. I fly a lot). Now these forms will need to be filled out every time we fly. That is over 6 times a year I will have to randomly email my doctors and hope they respond in time. I just found out they changed the form again and after a couple of hours of printing out forms and calling people and having a panic attack, I hope it all works out. I don’t know. I’m in the process of getting a new doctor so this makes everything even more difficult. If it doesn’t work out, I’m not going to be able to see my mom. I can’t fly without him and I don’t have the money to spend another $125 to have my dog with me. I’ve proven time and time again to AA that my dog is legit but now I’ll have to go through this over and over. Thank you AA for increasing my anxiety when I travel once again. I honestly might just stop visiting my mom as much, it’s just not worth it, I get so anxious that I start shaking and they are just making things harder and harder.

  19. Great submission. True some people ruin it for the people who genuinely need it. But then again to curb this problem the people who actually need the emotional support animals should not suffer. I am a patient to anxiety and got my terrier an ESA letter from this website myesadoctor and am planning to travel with him next month. One thing esa owners can do is be responsible for their ESA. make sure they are at their best behavior.

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