No More Pretending To Have A Support Animal, American Airlines Makes Pet Travel Easier

Airline passengers for years have faced a choice when traveling with pets.

  • Pay a pet in cabin fee for small dog or cat. And on top of the fee, the pet goes underneath the seat in front of you, but you aren’t allowed to bring a full-sized carry-on bag onto the plane.

  • Or just pretend to have an emotional support animal. It’s free. You can still bring your carry-on bag. It can even be a horse.

Before the pandemic, the FAA worked with airlines on new regulations that helped them crack down on the Noah’s Ark approach to domestic pet travel. Ostensibly passengers are limited to real service animals now. In practice, though, you just have to fill out paperwork in advance and say you have a service animal.

That step alone cracks down on some of the abuse. People who were bringing turkeys onto planes aren’t also the people who tend to file paperwork in advance. However there’s still a disconnect.

Fortunately American Airlines has changed one policy that made it difficult to go legit, pay the fee, and keep fido or fifi in under the seat in front of them. American will no longer require you to forfeit your full-sized carry-on bag when flying with a pet in cabin.

  • As of March 28, American Airlines no longer makes passengers give up their carry-on bag if they bring a pet in cabin.

  • The old policy was they could bring a pet and a personal item only.

  • Now they can bring a pet and either a carry-on or personal item.

American’s website has not yet been updated with this information as of this writing. However the new policy makes sense, as the theory at least was that you’d still only be bringing two items on board and not taking up more room in the overhead bin than a traveler without a pet – and that largely remains true. American also had larger overhead bins than when this old policy was put in place decades ago.

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. I have an emotional support animal. I have proper documentation from a licensed therapist. I know some people claim they have emotional support animals but unless you have the proper documentation they aren’t. Also emotional support animals do not go through training that service animals do. I don’t allow others to pet my dog unless she allows it. If she is barking etc and doesn’t know the person, to me that is a sign that you can look and not touch her.

  2. Worked for DL almost 20 years before getting out in the mid-90’s. Back then, the only pets allowed in the cabin were legitimate service seeing eye dogs. Any others had to be in a approved travel pet container and they rode in cargo hold. It’s heated and pressurized and on arrival the kennel was taken to the baggage claim area by hand or on a cart on an elevator to baggage claim. Rarely saw a pet that seemed traumatized. When we had our dog traveling we’d get tranquilizers from the vet, he’d have a good nap. Pets don’t belong in the passenger cabin.

  3. “Even a horse”? Yes, a miniature horse can be a real service animal – they can serve the same role as guide dogs for blind people.

  4. I’ve traveled with my cat in cabin and I don’t even want a full size carry on. How would a person even manage all that boarding and deplaning? This is a dumb move and will just cause more difficulty. What I want is the ability to purchase an extra seat and strap my pet carrier in next to me. The room under a seat is so miniscule, it’s hard just to have a cat. And I would NEVER check him as cargo. May be fine to tranq up a dog but a cat? It doesn’t work.

  5. Im sorry but saying or you can just pretend is the issue. You’re telling people its ok to lie which is also causing people with disabilities and the actual need for ESA medical assistance animals problems with people that dont.

  6. This is so weird. I have never traveled with my pets on a flight. Why? Because they’re PETS not humans. They be like family to you, but they do not compare.
    . I respect the fact that others have allergies to my cats. Never in my life have I heard of so many “emotional support” animals.
    The people that complain about ‘my dog is better than a child’, are looney.
    Get offended about what I said. Don’t care.
    Recently I was in a restaurant and if I had noticed a girl walk in and join a large table of people prior to me getting my food, I would have just walked out. The dog she tried to hide in her jacket was clearly a pet.
    It was small, dirty and smelled horrible. She kept snuggling and kissing it. I couldn’t watch anymore. Asked for my check and left. Will not go back because the waitress leaned down and petted that nasty dog. Never saw her wash her hands either.
    She went back to the counter and carried someone else’s food to their table. That’s why I will never go back there. Next time I will just walk out.
    This has gotten way out of hand. If you need an animal to support your emotions, then bro, you’ve got bigger problems that probably require intensive therapy and medication.

  7. I have a medical service dog. Fully trained and qualified. The government should have a licencing that is official. That is an issue. You can absolutely discern Fake service animals If there was an absolute standard Fake animal can be addressed. It is sad and frustrating.

  8. @Lance Johnson- that’s the point- no paperwork and even if it did exist (which is clearly understood by the comments here), we couldn’t ask for it anyway. We have a million miler wheezing with puffed up watering eyes (despite what Christa here the “expert” says- people DO get sick & have to change seats) getting bumped & an entitled woman with an Amazon vest on her domestic pet saying it’s an emotional support dog & she’s not changing seats to help that man because she has extra space seating. She had no problem with him being bumped & never attempted to offer what others here say are documents from their therapists. Again, we can’t ask or look at that anyway.
    For the record, I’ve seen military members with dogs show up with some sort of paperwork (that doesn’t matter anyway). It’s a broken system. Those here that say dogs don’t bite people on flights or that they don’t crap on people simply don’t fly enough to know that it sure does happen. Having some sort of system where you know that the dog is a legitimate support animal would also help the crew to know that the person traveling may need a little more attention as well- even if just a check in to see how they’re doing. Anxiety & fear can be crippling to people and unfortunately, cause some issues if they have a meltdown midflight.
    Legit service dogs are easy to spot- extremely well trained. They don’t take a dump under seat 12A so the entire cabin can smell it for 2 hours. Lack of paperwork IS the problem.

  9. This is in response to Zeppo. Your positive experiences with the treatment of pets by airlines are probably due to the time period you worked. My cats travelled by air (United Airlines) from DCA to CLE multiple times in the 1960s and 70s. In the 1960s Mittens went in air cargo and always arrived promptly and in good shape, to be picked up at air cargo by Grandpa at CLE and my dad at DCA. Things deteriorated over time, and by the early/mid 1970s our family was relieved that you were required to buy a special folding carrier from the airline (which could certainly be used multiple times) so that our then current cat could ride under the seat in front of me. It was fairly cramped for him, but there was far more space for him in economy class than there would be in any of today’s planes. I would NEVER fly with a cat under the seat or in cargo on today’s incredibly cramped planes. Being able to purchase a seat for the cat and strapping in the carrier is an excellent, though understandably expensive idea.

  10. The real issue is an emotional support animal is NOT a service animal. According to guidelines from the ADA are:
    1 Dogs
    2 Any breed and any size of dog
    3 Trained to perform a task directly related to a person’s disability
    And are NOT:
    1 Required to be certified or go through a professional training program

    2 Required to wear a vest or other ID that indicates they’re a service dog

    3 Emotional support or comfort dogs, because providing emotional support or comfort is not a task related to a person’s disability

    People have taken advantage and also take away from the real service dog. I pay my 150$ every time I bring one of my dogs with me on the plane. I don’t complain about it because that is the cost of bringing an animal in cabin. If you don’t want to pay the money to bring them then dont….get someone to care for them or board them while you are traveling.

  11. I just ordered a t-shirt titled: I AM AN EMOTIONAL SUPPORT HUMAN with lots of official looking certification on it. Not sure that I’ll be able to crawl under the seat but maybe it’ll be worth a try.

  12. Sometime in the last few years AA changed their policy. Only service animals allowed with required paperwork. Emotional support animals are no longer allowed. And from AA’s website: “Carry-on pets are limited to cats and dogs that meet the size, age and destination requirements.”

  13. To add to my previous post, (Sometime in the last few years AA changed their policy. Only service animals allowed with required paperwork. Emotional support animals are no longer allowed. And from AA’s website: “Carry-on pets are limited to cats and dogs that meet the size, age and destination requirements.”)
    Regarding service animals from AA’s websiste: “Fully-trained service dogs may fly in the cabin at no charge if they meet the requirements.” “A service animal is defined as a dog that’s individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability, including but not limited to…”

  14. Airports now have restrooms for pets. Last time I flew it was like a trip to a zoo. Dog 2 rows from me had diarrhea.

  15. If there was any ethical way to get a non-tiny pet dog in cabin in-flight, I’d do it. Ridiculous money, ton of hoops to jump through, whatever.

    I hardy travel nowadays because of this issue. We have dogs too big to fit under the seat, but cargo wouldn’t work because A) you hear way too many stories about pet injuries and deaths, B) they’d be hella freaked out, and C) Luna would absolutely break out of any and every possible kennel, unless it was one of those $1,500 high anxiety Impact kennels or those $2,000 Alcatraz kennels. Maybe even those.

    I would 1,000% be willing to pay stupid money to be able to travel with her. If they were like “only if you get 1-2 seats for her, pay first class prices for both of you, but you’re in business class”, sure. No question. Would absolutely do that. Or be in a cube pod with no windows the whole flight, sure. If that’s what it takes.

    I don’t think the airline industry understands just how willing the dog obsessed community is to be, frankly, exploited if it means better conditions for our dogs. I’m looking at learning physical therapy techniques for my senior dog with arthritis. I’m planning my entire future around my current and future dogs.

    Tell me how to do it the right way and I’ll do it, but currently the only option is cargo or say that she’s a service dog, and neither of those work for me, so I just don’t travel.

    My dad has a service dog, and Mr. Milton has bonkers levels of self-control and focus. Like, he picked up bacon that someone at our table had dropped and handed it to Dad instead of eating it. You can for sure tell, and besides that, I’m not going to make things harder for real handler & service dog pairs.

    Give me an option, any option, and I’ll take it. There used to be a dog-only in-cabin airline, would totally do that if my girl didn’t have separation anxiety. As it is, if I ever have to travel for an extended period, it’s a road trip for me. And I’ve heard some people use private flights. Which sounds ridiculous but ‍♀️ if that’s what it takes, y’know?

  16. I fly with my cat on Alaska and it chaps my hide that I have to pay $100 per flight to have her ride under the seat in front of me. I also have to pay the fee upon arrival at the airport and wait in the “special service” line for an hour. More price gouging by airlines.

  17. The author of this article, in my opinion, is part of the problem. ‘Oh, just fill out the paperwork and they will let you on.’ I’m sorry but telling people to just say it is an ESA or that you can pretend is the issue. SERVICE DOGS are NECESSARY for some in our society. FAKE paperwork is not just an inconvenience it makes life harder in OTHER situations for people who rightfully have and reply on properly trained service dogs If your animal does not meet the basic requirements for each respective airline -DON’T BRING THEM ON BOARD. Doing so literally makes the life of those in actual need of service dogs, simply to be able to be a part of society rather than locked away in their homes, MUCH harder so you can have your PET. It is the epitome of selfishness

  18. I believe it is unfair to those of us that have an allergy to pet dander and other allergies. I think most people traveling with animals think we will all love them. I like animals just allergic. Also the sense of entitlement of some people have is amazing. Please people consider your fellow passengers.

  19. In Texas bringing a pet into any establishment that serves or sells food is unlawful. The only exception is a Service Dog. That means you can not legally bring your crated small pet dog or cat, your small horse or any other animal into restaurants or grocery stores. The rule should be the same for commercial flights, public transit and trains. Want to take your pet on a flight . . . charter! FedEx will transport pets.

  20. How does this impact an ESA canine that is 70 pounds in weight? Is there still a weight and size restriction or could I purchase the seat next to me for my 70 pound labradoodle? Thank you.

  21. I would like to be able to buy a seat for my dog who is slightly too big to be comfortable in the mandated pet carrier. Dogs ride in cars all the time with a car leash attached to their harness so they have to stay in place. I think it would be fair to require that no passenger who is not in my party have to sit next to my dog. If it is just my dog and me, I’d have to put him in a window seat. He’d like that. He enjoys looking out the window.

  22. Oh NO! are we really back to this again? You suck AA. I’m getting enough of the Third World with this open border. Why are you so hard up? You’re an airline not a zoo. This invites nothing but trouble.

  23. It amazes me how only a few years back, we could shop, eat, & fly without all these so called “support animals” Not everyone is in love with your animal!!! Animals are NOT human!! Just one more thing some are trying to make the cultural norm

  24. That horse is no service animal, it’s an ESA for a sensitive tub of lard. God look at that butt! Being fat is not a legal disability, it’s a lifestyle choice. Plus don’t airlines have a weight limit? That girl and her horse are beyond the weight limit, she is more than beyond the weight and size limit alone. She and the horse should be flying on a livestock transport cargo plane to meet her needs and transport the ESA horse.

  25. Saw this today and was hoping it was an April Fools joke. This is beyond ridiculous. I’m so tired of people thinking it’s ok to being their mutts with them everywhere they go. NO ONE cares about your stupid animal. If you can’t be without them, STAY HOME.

  26. This new policy is a big deal for a small number of travelers. For those of us who used to be able to fly with our dogs as checked luggage on AA, it’s nothing but a disappointment. The embargo on this service put in place during the pandemic was never removed. The $200 fee has morphed into thousands of dollars, only to have your dog, if you can afford this, still flying in a crate under the plane like before, only with extremely limited flights. So, I am not impressed with this new policy in the least.

  27. AA should also allow individuals with respiratory disabilities that may be triggered by pets to be accommodated by flying in pet free aircraft. Pets should be limited to specific flights. If you can get an allergen free hotel room, why not an allergen free flight? If someone goes into respiratory distress at 30,000 feet, they’ll die. These policies ignore the fatal consequences.

  28. The information in this article is incorrect. The laws were changed in 2021 to no longer allow emotional support animals and to limit service animals to dogs only. The mini horse you shared is a service animal not an emotional support animal and that flight was taken before the law changed. If you’re going to write an inflammatory article at least get your facts straight. If I were you I’d just delete this article because it’s an embarrassment.

  29. @ Claire H
    My entire family are very allergic to cats. Will we be moved to first class to get away from this? This is unbelievable it’s not our fault we are allergic, but it’s their fault that they have to have their animals with them on board. There should be some other method of transporting the animals, then in the cabin.

    WTH is wrong with you? It’s disabled people’s fault that they are disabled?? What! Yet it’s not your fault you are allergic?? Your logic is absolutely insane.

  30. I’m allergic to poorly behaved children.l and loud fussy babies. Maybe they should apply the same rules towards them as they do towards service animals. I can guarantee a real service animal is far better behaved and probably more clean than a child is.

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