The prevalence of “emotional support” animals on flights within the United States has become a serious problem. It’s not uncommon to see service animals such as guide dogs on aircraft… but the rules surrounding support animals on planes in the United States have become a dog’s breakfast.

United Airlines last week denied boarding to a passenger’s emotional support peacock. The passenger attempted to board the flight from Newark to Los Angeles despite several warnings from United that the animal was too large to be carried onto the flight.

The United States Air Carrier Access Act requires US airlines to permit service animals on their flights. These rules are intended to ensure disabled passengers requiring assistance from service animals are able to travel.

These laws also require American airlines to accept emotional support animals. It’s true that a small number of passengers may genuinely need to travel with emotional support animals. But it seems many passengers are actively exploiting  this loophole to take their pets – including peacocks, apparently – on board for free.

A letter from a medical professional is generally required to carry an emotional support animal onto a flight. The problem is that these letters can be easily obtained over the internet. What’s more, some of the so-called emotional support animals being carried on board are dangerous. Over the past few years, there have been cases of emotional support pigs, turkeys, monkeys, spiders and even snakes. And last year a Delta Airlines passenger was mauled by an untrained emotional support dog.

The situation has become so ridiculous that some US airlines have decided to crack down on emotional support animals. From next month, Delta Airlines will no longer allow goats, snakes, pigs, turkeys, hedgehogs and a range of other animals on its flights. As part of Delta’s “enhanced” requirements, customers travelling with service animals will also need to prove their animals are vaccinated and well-behaved. United will introduce a similar new policy from 1 March following the emotional support peacock incident. Hopefully this will make life easier for passengers that legitimately require service animals.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Have we reached Peak Support Animal?

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]