United Reigns in “Support Animals”

Photo Courtesy: Thejetset.tv

Emily Rickel/Staff Reporter


United Airlines has recently updated its policy for customers traveling with emotional support animals. The announcement regarding the new policy was released shortly after the airline denied a woman and her emotional support peacock from boarding a flight at the Newark Liberty International Airport on Jan. 28.

According to BBC, Dexter the peacock is owned by a Brooklyn-based artist named Ventiko. Dexter was originally purchased for an art installation before he was permanently relocated to Ventiko’s home in New York. When Ventiko is not working on her photography and performing art pieces, she is posting to Dexter’s Instagram page so his 13,000 followers can stay up-to-date with his adventures.

However, Dexter’s adventure to Los Angeles was cut short by United officials. In their Feb. 1 press release, United provided a list of animals that are currently prohibited from traveling in the cabin. Such animals include hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, reptiles, and rodents. Unfortunately for Dexter, this list also includes exotic animals and non-household birds.

United’s current policy also requires customers with emotional support animals to provide the airline with 48 hours’ notice to make proper accommodations. Additionally, customers must produce a letter from a mental health professional that prescribes the need for an emotional support animal. Despite this policy, the increased ease of registering an emotional support animal has led to many customers taking advantage of accommodations meant for individuals with
emotional disabilities.

“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. 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,” United stated in their Feb. 1 press release.

Starting March 1, United customers with emotional support animals must provide proof that the animal has been trained to behave properly in public. Health and vaccination forms signed by a veterinarian will also be required to prove that the animal will not pose a threat to the health and safety of other customers.

These new policies parallel those announced in a Jan. 19 press release from Delta Air Lines. Delta explained their motivation for updating their policies by citing previous events: “Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders, and more. Ignoring the true intent of existing rules, governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”

With any luck, these new policies will help to prevent further abuse of regulations surrounding emotional support animals.