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Alaska Airlines becomes first major US airline to announce emotional support animal ban

Alaska Airlines will soon ban emotional support animals from flights, becoming the first major U.S. airline to do so after the Department of Transportation revised its regulations earlier this month about what constitutes a service animal.

Beginning Jan. 11, Alaska will only allow service dogs, which it defined in a press release as dogs that are " specially trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability," including psychiatric service dogs, the airline said Tuesday in a news release.

Passengers with emotional support animals with reservations booked prior to Jan. 11 will still be allowed to fly, but no exceptions will be made after Feb. 28.

The DOT announced Dec. 2 its revised Air Carrier Access Act would no longer classify emotional support animals as service animals, which are allowed to fly with passengers on commercial airlines under federal law.

Advocacy group Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. airlines, previously expressed support for the DOT's revisions, though Alaska is the first major U.S. airline to formally announce it will enact them.

Alaska's new policy allows up to two service dogs per guest, and those guests will be required to fill out a DOT form – available on the airline's website beginning Jan. 11 – to confirm that the service dog is "trained and vaccinated and will behave appropriately during the journey."

The changes are a departure from the previous DOT guidance issued last year, which said that airlines could not restrict passengers from traveling with emotional support animals, nor could they ban a specific breed or species of support animal.

Airlines are currently prohibited from refusing service dogs based on their breed, and that prohibition will continue under the new rules.

Airlines have also questioned whether some passengers may be trying to pass off their pets as support animals – be they cats, rabbits or birds, among others – in order to avoid paying the associated fees.

"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," said Alaska Airlines director of customer advocacy Ray Prentice.

The DOT sought public comment on the proposed policy early this year and got more than 15,000 comments.

Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional support animals in airline cabins. And when DOT proposed the rule change in January, disability advocates and airline personnel alike were in favor.

“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, at the time. He said some people “want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them.”

Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, and they too were in favor of the rule.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. She said some of her union’s members were hurt by untrained pets.

This article originally appeared on USA Today

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