Blame the peacock: United Airlines’ new rules for emotional support animals.

Just days after refusing to let a woman fly with what she claimed is her emotional support peacock, United Airlines has issued notice that, starting March 1, there will be new rules for bringing emotional support animals onboard.

United’s policy for those traveling with service animals (guide dogs and other animals trained to perform assistive tasks) currently does not require advance notice or documentation and is not changing.

The new rules will apply to emotional support animals.

Right now, customers with emotional support animals are required to give United’s Accessibility Desk 48-hours’ notice AND a letter from a mental health professional.

Starting March 1, in addition to 48-hour notice and an enhanced letter from a mental health professional, the airline will require anyone traveling with an emotional support animal to also provide additional documentation including:

  • The customer must provide confirmation that the animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting and acknowledge responsibility for the animal’s behavior.
  • The customer must also provide a health and vaccination form signed by the animal’s veterinarian. The veterinarian must also affirm that there is no reason to believe that the animal will pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft or cause a significant disruption in service.

Today United also reminded travelers that  hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles, sugar gliders, non-household birds, exotic animals and animals not properly cleaned or those that are really smelly are not allowed in airplane cabins.

“Year-over-year, we have seen a 75 percent increase in customers bringing emotional support animals onboard and as a result have experienced a significant increase in onboard incidents involving these animals,” United said in a statement. “We understand that other carriers are seeing similar trends. The Department of Transportation’s rules regarding emotional support animals are not working as they were intended to, prompting us to change our approach in order to ensure a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers.”

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) said in a statement that is it thrilled with United Airlines’ announcement:

“United has taken a very thoughtful, responsible approach to this issue. The airline’s increased requirements for emotional support animals will reduce fraud and protect the legitimate need of animal assistance for passengers with disabilities and veterans,” said Sara Nelson, international president of AFA. “This is about maintaining safety, health and security for passengers and crew, while ensuring accessibility for those who need it.”

Delta Air Lines recently announced that, starting March 1,  it will be changing its rules for passengers flying with service dogs or emotional support animals.

Expect other airlines, including American Airlines, to update their rules on flying with service animals and emotional support or ‘comfort’ animals soon.

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