Stricter Requirements for Emotional Support Animals By Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines will require all passengers traveling with emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals to provide documentation of proof of health or vaccinations a minimum of 48 hours in advance of the departure of a flight effective as of Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

Stricter Requirements for Emotional Support Animals By Alaska Airlines

In developing the updated requirements, Alaska Airlines consulted with its disability advisory board and disability advocacy groups to ensure that the expanded policy accommodates guests with disabilities — all while remaining in compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act.

For new flight reservations which are booked on or after Tuesday, May 1, 2018, passengers who travel with emotional support and psychiatric service animals must submit three completed documents via e-mail message or fax to Alaska Airlines, which will be available on alaskaair.com starting on Monday, April 30, 2018:

  1. Animal Health Advisory Form — On this form the flyer acknowledges Alaska Airlines’ recommendation that all emotional support and psychiatric service animals travel with a veterinary-issued health certificate.
  2. Mental Health Form — Currently required, this is a letter issued by a mental health professional or medical doctor approving the use of an emotional support and psychiatric service animals.
  3. Animal Behavior Form — A signed affidavit affirming the emotional support or psychiatric service animal is trained to behave in public and that the owner accepts all liability for any injuries or damage to property.

A Trend in the Commercial Aviation Industry

Alaska Airlines follows the lead of Delta Air Lines — and then United Airlines — in being prompted to to strengthen its policies pertaining to passengers who travel with emotional support animals.

Although most animals do not cause problems, the changes were derived by Alaska Airlines to ensure a safe environment for all passengers and were developed based on a number of recent incidents over the most recent few years during which the inappropriate behavior of emotional support animals has impacted and even injured employees, other passengers and legitimate service animals, as caused by what is described as a steady increase in incidents from animals who have not been adequately trained to behave in a busy airport setting or aboard an airplane.

The changes do not apply to the policy of Alaska Airlines pertaining to traditional service animals.

“In recent years, the overall number of emotional support and psychiatric service animals traveling on Alaska Airlines has increased dramatically”, according to this official press release from the airline. “Every day, approximately 150 emotional support and psychiatric service animals travel on Alaska Airlines.”

Owners and handlers are required to keep animals traveling with them under their control at all times; and all animals must behave well in a public setting.

Passengers with tickets purchased after Tuesday, May 1, 2018 who do not submit the required documentation a minimum of 48 hours in advance will be offered to fly with their pet under existing policies for travel in the cabin or in the temperature-controlled cargo compartment. Existing fleet and breed restrictions — as well as health certificate requirements — will apply.

Animals Which are Not Permitted to Travel on Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines does not accept the following exotic or unusual animals to be misidentified as emotional support animals or psychiatric service animals:

  • Amphibians
  • Hedgehogs
  • Ferrets
  • Goats
  • Insects
  • Reptiles
  • Rodents
  • Snakes
  • Spiders
  • Sugar gliders
  • Reptiles
  • Non-household birds — farm poultry, waterfowl, game birds, and birds of prey
  • Animals improperly cleaned and/or foul odor
  • Animals with tusks, horns, or hooves — except miniature horses that are trained to behave appropriately
  • Any unusual or exotic animals

A Reminder of the Definitions of Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

The official definition of a service animal — according to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice of the United States pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — is as follows:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

Additionally, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered — unless these devices interfere with the intended work of the service animal or the disability of the individual prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to an individual designated with a disability — such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks or anxiety as only a few of many examples. While only dogs — and, in a separate provision which need not be discussed here, miniature horses — can be officially designated as service animals, emotional support animals can also be cats and other animals as prescribed by a physician or other medical professional if the owner of the animal has a verifiable disability in accordance with federal law of the United States.

In order to prevent discrimination by commercial airlines — based both within and outside of the United States — against passengers on the basis of physical or mental disability, the Air Carrier Access Act was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986; and here are where complaints may be registered against an airline via the official Internet web site of the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division of the Department of Transportation of the United States.

Employees of airlines are limited by law to the questions they are permitted to ask owners of animals brought aboard airplanes. Only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter pertaining to service animals…

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

…and when the service an animal provides is not obvious, an employee of an airline or other company cannot do the following actions without violating federal law:

  • Ask about the nature of the disability of the person
  • Require medical documentation
  • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog; or
  • Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task

Official Policies of Airlines in the United States

A commercial airline is permitted to require a passenger traveling with an emotional support animal provide written documentation that the animal is an emotional support animal — unlike for a service animal. A fee does not apply to service animals of passengers with disabilities — not even on airlines such as Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, which are known for their proliferation of ancillary fees.

Here is a list of airlines with links to their official policies pertaining to animals:

Summary

“Expect other airlines to eventually follow the lead of Delta Air Lines and implement similar policies” is what I wrote in this article pertaining to similarly stricter requirements for emotional support animals by Delta Air Lines on Friday, January 19, 2018 — but one difference is that service dogs are also included in the updated policy with Delta Air Lines; whereas the policy for service dogs remains unchanged with United Airlines and Alaska Airlines. Look for American Airlines — and possibly other airlines — to release a similar updated policy in the coming weeks.

I believe that what Alaska Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are implementing is a step in the right direction; but although the new requirements may mitigate the number of passengers who attempt to cheat the system — which is not fair to passengers who have legitimate service dogs or emotional support animals — the effort will not be enough to eliminate them, as those passengers who are determined to fraudulently pass their pets as legitimate service dogs or emotional support animals will continue to do so to save money.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to service dogs and emotional support animals in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including:

Photograph ©2006 by B. Cohen.

5 thoughts on “Stricter Requirements for Emotional Support Animals By Alaska Airlines”

  1. Gene says:

    Great! Good job on Alaska, especially about the part that they don’t make us vets sign any ambiguous document to vouch for these pets. To this day, I refuse to sign the UA form which asks me to predict how the dog will behave on an airplane.

    “Mate, I just met your dog like 5 minutes ago, and I am to predict if your dog will or will not maul the guy in next seat? That requires special training with crystal balls, not vet medicine degree~”

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Never mind animals, Gene — even the behavior of many human beings is unpredictable…

  2. Boston says:

    Delta’s policy was modified after initially being published, to reduce any new restrictions specifically for guide or seeing eye dogs or similar. Many advocacy groups, of the blind, and likely other disabilities who traditionally use service animals, protested Delta’s initial iteration of its policy. In particular, people who are blind objected to the 48 hours notice requirement which Delta later relaxed. Persons who are blind using service dogs may still have some objections to Delta’s modified policies but I don’t have that detail readily available at this moment.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I appreciate the information, Boston. Thank you.

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