The number of service animals on flights has increased significantly in recent years. Furthermore, there have been reports that people obtained doctor’s notes stating they needed emotional support animals to accompany them, so their pets could fly for free.
Passengers have flown with a variety of emotional support animals including a pig, a duck, and even a turkey. United Airlines, however, denied boarding to a passenger who wanted to bring an emotional support peacock on board last year.
Delta Airlines revised its service and support animal policy last month. Delta no longer allows service and support animals that are younger than four months. In addition, the airline has banned emotional support animals on flights that last longer than 8 hours.
United’s new guidelines
Following in Delta Airlines’ footsteps, United Airlines has also released new guidelines for travel with service animals. United’s new policy went into effect on January 7, 2019; however, passengers who booked their flights before January 3rd are still permitted to bring service animals based on the old guidelines.
Moving forward passengers will only be allowed to bring a dog or a cat to act as their emotional support or psychiatric service animal. The animal must be at least four months of age. Accordingly, puppies or kittens will no longer be allowed. Moreover, emotional support animals will only be accepted on flights lasting less than 8 hours.
Additionally, United Airlines is limiting trained service animals for passengers with physical disabilities to dogs, cats, and miniature horses over four months of age.
Passengers trying to get free flights for their pets are not the only problem though. There have also been complaints from crew members and passengers because animals have bitten them. In addition, the animals frequently dirty the cabin, especially on longer flights. Finally, there have been concerns about allergic reactions that could be aggravated by the animals.
With all this in mind, why do airlines allow the animals on board?
Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel.” Airlines have to allow passengers with disabilities to bring their service animals on flights free of charge. Furthermore, the airlines cannot require the animals to be in a carrier.
Nonetheless, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines may ban animals that: “are too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin, pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, cause a significant disruption of cabin service, or are prohibited from entering a foreign country.”
Even though airlines cannot ban service animals altogether, they can implement restrictions. Accordingly, United Airlines was able to update its guidelines and prohibit certain animals from boarding its flights.
Now that United Airlines and Delta Airlines have revised their service animal policies, other airlines are likely to follow.
Have you ever encountered an exotic animal on board a flight? If yes, how did you feel about it?