Fresh from peacock incident, United Airlines sets stricter rules for emotional support animals

Key Points
  • United joins Delta in setting stricter rules for emotional support animals.
  • Airline employees and passengers have complained about biting, barking and allergies.
  • The rules take effect March 1.
A dog with its flight ticket is seen in a plane in Chiba, Japan.
Richard Atrero de Guzman | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Want to travel with an emotional support dog, duck or miniature horse? Starting next month, United Airlines will want passengers to show they can behave.

The airline is setting more stringent requirements for emotional support animals, joining Delta Air Lines in cracking down on a sharp increase in such animals in the cabin. Delta complained that some of the animals soiled cabins or bit travelers.

United said the number of customers bringing emotional support animals on board has risen 75 percent over the past year.

"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 said.

Starting March 1, United passengers will have to confirm that the animal is trained to behave in a "public setting" and take responsibility for the animal's behavior. Travelers must also hand over a form signed by a veterinarian that shows the animal is up to date on vaccinations and a document that states "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."

The airline already requires passengers to notify it 48 hours in advance of the flight if they plan to bring an emotional support animal on board and to bring a letter from a mental health professional regarding the animal.

Late last month, a Brooklyn artist tried to bring a peacock on board a cross-country United flight, but was turned away by the airline because of the bird's weight and size.

Emotional support animals are allowed in cabins free of charge under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said airlines may turn away certain unusual animals.

"As a reminder, animals currently prohibited from traveling in the cabin include hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles, sugar gliders, non-household birds, exotic animals and animals not properly cleaned or carry a foul odor," said United.

Passengers traveling with service animals, such as guide dogs, will still not be required to provide documentation or advance notice to the airline.

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Airlines are rethinking their emotional-support animal policies