Alaska Airlines is banning emotional support animals as the DOT's new rule take effect in January

  • Alaska Airlines will only allow trained service dogs to fly on its planes in 2021. 
  • A new Department of Transportation rule takes effect on January 11, 2021, that defines a service animal as a trained dog and gives airlines the flexibility to limit which animals they allow onboard.
  • Airlines have been looking to close the emotional support animal loophole for years after onboard incidents with the often untrained animals. 
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Alaska Airlines is adding emotional support animals to its no-fly list.

Starting on January 11, 2021, only trained service dogs will be allowed to fly on Alaska as the airline is cracking down on a loophole that's allowed flyers to fly with a menagerie of animals, as long as they were given the loose designation of an "emotional support animal." 

The Department of Transportation issued a final rule earlier in December that narrowed the definition of a service animal, giving airlines greater freedom is limiting which animals can fly on their planes. Years of abuse of the emotional support animal loophole allowed flyers to bring their pets in the cabin of an aircraft at no charge.

"This final rule defines a service animal as a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is 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," the DOT said in its ruling.

Alaska is wasting no time in implementing the new policy, enacting it on the same day that the new federal rule takes effect. 

"Alaska will only transport service dogs, which are specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability," the airline said in a press release. 

It wasn't uncommon to see wild and exotic animals like peacocks, snakes, and pigs boarding aircraft. While an interesting phenomenon at first, some of the biggest problems were unruly behavior and physical interactions with the flight crew, as Alaska cited in its announcement. 

"Changes to the DOT rules came after feedback from the airline industry and disability community regarding numerous instances of emotional support animal misbehavior which caused injuries, health hazards and damage to aircraft cabins," the statement read.

As the LA Times reported, reports of incidents with emotional support animals grew in 2018 and airlines began cracking down as best they could. Alaska, as Mashable reported, banned animals like birds, rodents, and reptiles, among others.  

"This regulatory change is welcome news, as it will help us reduce disturbances onboard, while continuing to accommodate our guests traveling with qualified service animals," Ray Prentice, Alaska Airlines' director of customer advocacy, said in a statement.

The Seattle-based airline will, however, continue to accept psychiatric service dogs that serve handlers afflicted by anxiety, depression, bipolar disorders, panic attacks, social phobias, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorders, among others, according to Medical Mutts. But just like the service animals, they'll need to be trained and have the required vaccinations before they're allowed to fly. 

Each passenger with a bonafide Fido will be given an allowance of two dogs, whether it be two service animals, psychiatric service dogs, or a mix of the two. 

Household pets can still fly in the cabin of Alaska's aircraft as long as it's in a carrier and the handler is over 18 years old. A fee of $100 each way will also be levied. 

"Pets allowed in the passenger cabin are dogs, cats, rabbits, and household birds," Alaska's website says. "Dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and must have been fully weaned."

Alaska's new policy starts on January 11, 2021, but the last day to fly with an emotional support animal will be February 28, 2021, to accommodate those with existing bookings.

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