American Airlines has updated its emotional support animal policy. It has banned, among other animals, goats, and requires a form signed by a mental health professional confirming a passenger requires an emotional support animal. (Dreamstime)
Photo: Dreamstime/TNS
Photo: Dreamstime/TNS

As more support animals try to fly, American Airlines says leave the goats at home

Leave your service insect, hedgehog or goat at home. 

These are the animals now also restricted from flying as support animals aboard American Airlines flights per the airline's latest animal restrictions.  

The country's largest airline, which has a major hub in Miami, released its new policy Monday detailing stricter rules for flying with a furry emotional support companion. The changes will take effect July 1.  

They come after a boom in the number of passengers who are transporting service or support animals aboard planes. From 2016 to 2017, American alone saw a 40 percent spike in passengers traveling with service or support animals. The new rules also follow several stories that have gone viral in recent months about passengers who tried to travel with their service peacocks or hamsters.  

Under American's new guidelines, insects, hedgehogs and goats join a list of restricted animals that includes amphibians, ferrets, reptiles, rodents, snakes, spiders, sugar gliders, non-household birds, animals with tusks, horns or hooves, and animals that are unclean or have an odor.  

Passengers traveling with emotional support animals will need to notify the airline 48 hours prior a flight, but policies will be in place for emergency travel. Guests will also be required to provide a form filled out by their doctor detailing their need for a support animal, or a letter from their doctor. Travelers must also fill out a form conforming to behavior guidelines for their support animal, including agreeing that if the animal cannot be well-behaved on the flight, it will be treated as a pet and all pet fees will apply. Carry-on pets incur a $125 fee.  

The changes are a way for American to reduce the number of passengers who try to pass their pets off as support animals to avoid additional fees. Legitimate service animals travel for free.  

"We support the rights of customers, from veterans to people with disabilities, with legitimate needs for a trained service or support animal," American said in a statement. "Unfortunately, untrained animals can lead to safety issues for our team, our customers and working dogs onboard our aircraft."  

The airline worked with several disabilities groups, including the American Association of People with Disabilities, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Council for the Blind and My Blind Spot, to develop the new rules. None of the restrictions affect American's service animal policy, which specifically applies to animals that are trained to assist people with disabilities.  

American will also train its employees on how better to distinguish a support animal from a pet.  

"A lot of people tend to try to skirt the policies and the protocols that are in place that protect not only people like myself who are dependent on our service animals for mobility, with any issues in regards to [post traumatic stress disorder], there are a variety of services that legitimate service animals provide," said Albert Rizzi, founder and CEO of My Blind Spot, a New York-based nonprofit. "It's hard to discern the difference between people passing off a pet as an emotional support dog versus a legitimate service animal that is there to mitigate a disability."

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