Was your emotional support animal hoping for a free ride? Unless he’s a cat or dog, that’s not going to happen on United Airlines. And even cats and dogs will find their wings clipped by tighter rules that went into effect earlier this month.
The flap over emotional support animals apparently began when a woman tried to board a United Flight in Newark with a peacock named Dexter on her shoulders.
Nothing against peacocks, the airline said, but Dexter was way too big to ride in the cabin. He and his human drove to California.
Ruffling Everyone’s Feathers
In a survey by the Association of Flight Attendants, 62 percent reported working a flight during which an emotional support animal caused a disruption in the cabin. Fifty-three percent said animals have snapped at or bitten flight attendants or other passengers.
Then there are the dogs who bark nonstop or get bored in their seats and roam the cabin. And there are the wet, smelly potty breaks that have to be cleaned up by someone, usually a flight attendant. One recalled a passenger lining the floor of the cabin with puppy pads to absorb her emotional support animal’s “accidents.”
The flight attendants also reported conflicts between passengers who had animals with them and people who didn’t. Not everyone loves potbellied pigs or monkeys and wants to share a seat with them.
Turns out an emotional support animal could be any species from a dog or cat to, yes, a pig or monkey. Although Dexter the peacock wasn’t allowed on his flight, a turkey flew for free using an airline’s wings and so did a mallard dressed for travel in red shoes.
In the survey, flight attendants suggested that people are taking advantage of the Federal Department of Transportation’s policy that lets emotional support animals snag free rides on the nation’s airlines. The number of emotional support animals flying for free increased from 43,000 in 2016 to 76,000 last year.
Grounded: Young Kittens And Puppies And Most Other Species
Under United’s new rules:
- kittens and puppies under four months of age cannot fly at all, even as in-cabin pets because most are unvaccinated.
- Emotional support animals’ flights are limited to eight hours or less.
- Only cats and dogs may fly as emotional support animals. Only cats, dogs and miniature horses may fly as service animals.
- When they fly, animals must fit under their human’s seat and cannot extend into the aisle. The animal must “behave properly” (no potty breaks, nipping or biting or nonstop barking) and “follow directions from its owner.”
United isn’t the only airline to end the free rides for most emotional support animals. Spirit Airlines and Delta and American have tightened their restrictions, too.