Airlines Tighten Restrictions For Flying With Therapy Animals

Airlines are tightening restrictions on emotional support animals. What does that actually mean for people who need to travel with these animal companions?

At New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport, an “emotional support” peacock was barred from boarding a cross-country flight.

Despite Dexter, the peacock having his own ticket, a United Airlines spokesperson confirmed in a statement that he did not meet its guidelines for a number of reasons, including “weight and size.” “We explained this to the customer on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport,” United added.

“Spent 6 hours trying to get on my flight to LA (after following all required protocol),” read the caption for a photo posted to Dexter’s Instagram account. “Tomorrow my human friends are going to drive me cross country!”

Many people who were following the story on social media, thought it was preposterous that a peacock would be allowed to fly cage-free in a plane’s cabin. Dexter falls into a gray area when it comes to the types of emotional support animals allowed on airplanes.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA), which protects passengers with disabilities against discrimination by commercial airlines, any service animals trained to help a person with a disability, “or any animal that assists persons with disabilities by providing emotional support,” should be allowed to accompany their owners on a flight, the Department of Transportation notes.

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According to the ACAA, animals that airlines are not required to accommodate, include snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders and spiders (all of which passengers have attempted to bring on flights, noted Delta).

And what about peacocks?

The majority of emotional support animals are dogs and cats, while exotic therapy pets, such as skunks, turkeys, kangaroos and potbellied pigs have flown on airlines before. Many of these cases, are up to the discretion of the airline whether or not to allow an unusual therapy animal 39,000 feet in the air.

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Follow these protocols before heading to the airport to be sure that your emotional support animal can join you on your flight:

Check your airline’s online guidelines.

Save yourself a lot of hassle and be sure to look up the airline’s guidelines for emotional support animals before booking your ticket.

Policies differ depending on the commercial airline you choose, so it is best to be prepared. JetBlue, for example, specifies that “unusual animals” will not be allowed on flights, and that “birds that do not have their wings ‘clipped or pinioned’ may also be refused carriage.”

Delta does not directly state the types of animals allowed on its flights, the airline is tightening its restrictions as of March 1, requiring that owners of emotional support animals submit a veterinary health form showing up-to-date vaccinations, documents from a mental health professional and confirmation of animal training at least 48 hours in advance of a flight.

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United requires customers traveling with emotional support animals to provide documentation from a medical professional and at least 48 hours’ advance notice. According to a statement, the airline is “reviewing [its] existing policy and plan[s] to share more soon.” Emotional support animals such as miniature horses, pigs, and monkeys are evaluated by airlines on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the Department of Transportation’s guidelines.

You should call the airline 48 hours in advance

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If you are required to submit paperwork before your travels or just have it on hand for staff to review, giving the airline advance notice of your travel plans is always a good idea.

The size and weight of the animal, or if the animal’s release into a plane’s cabin would pose a “direct health and safety risk” to crew and passengers, which are all reasons an airline can refuse your therapy animal boarding, or place him in the cargo hold. Best to find out requirements for your animal to travel in the cabin, either in a blanket, crate or in his own seat, ahead of time to save yourself a difficult or time-consuming process at the gate.

Bring up-to-date paperwork to the airport

Most of the airlines will require paperwork from a licensed mental health professional stating that you have a diagnosed mental or emotional disability and that you need your emotional support or psychiatric support animal during air travel. Be sure to see that your paperwork has been updated within one year of your scheduled flight.

Even if it is not be required, it doesn’t hurt to bring up-to-date veterinary paperwork for your therapy animal as well.

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