In the wake of incidents ranging from the appearance of an emotional support peacock to the mauling of a man on a Delta flight by another passenger’s emotional support dog, airlines are cracking down on emotional support animals in flight.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Air Carrier Access Act governs service animals and emotional support animals, and airlines “cannot refuse to allow your animal onboard because it makes other passengers or flight crew uncomfortable.”
But, airlines can request documentation of a mental or emotional disability by a licensed mental health professional and the need for an emotional support animal and psychiatric service animal for air travel or activity at a destination.
The American Veterinary Medical Association on its website notes: “Most people are aware of the role of service animals, such as guide dogs,” but emotional support animals are a “more recently developed category of assistance animals.”
Emotional support animals are animals that “provide companionship and emotional support for people diagnosed with a psychological disorder,” according to the AVMA -- and notably “does not have to be trained to perform any particular task.”
Another requirement for emotional support and service animals, according to the federal government: The animal must behave properly.
“An animal that engages in disruptive behavior (e.g. barking or snarling, running around, and/or jumping onto other passengers, etc. without being provoked) will not be accepted as a service animal,” says the U.S. Department of Transportation’s brochure on Air Travel With Service Animals.
Airlines can also exclude animals that are too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin or pose a threat to the health or safety of others, according to the DOT.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines also says it also does not permit hedgehogs, insects, amphibians, goats, non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird & birds of prey), animals “improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor” and animals with tusks, horns or hooves.
And Delta says it will refuse to transport animals if they engage in “disruptive behavior” such as growling, relieving themselves in the gate area or cabin, or eating off seatback tray tables.
In 2018, Delta tightened restrictions on emotional support animals by requiring a “confirmation of animal training” form and other documents. United Airlines implemented a similar policy.
Delta also last year banned pit bulls as service or support animals, limited each passenger to one emotional support animal, and banned puppies under four months old as service or support animals.
Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier in Atlanta, says examples of disruptive behavior that could prompt an animal to be denied boarding include scratching, excessive whining, growling, biting, lunging and urinating or defecating in the cabin or gate area.
Dallas-based Southwest last year limited emotional support animals to one dog or cat per customer and said no other types of animals such as turkeys, pigs or peacocks are allowed.
The DOT last year began taking public comments as it considers changing regulations of service animals and emotional support animals on flights.
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