“Support Peacock” Incident on United Latest in Animal Controversy

United Airlines Editorial

An incident over the weekend in which a support peacock was denied boarding on a United Airlines flight is the latest twist in an ongoing controversy regarding service and support animals on airlines. The incident comes not long after Delta modified its guidelines regarding service and support animals in response to what it says were several dangerous incidents in the air.

As first reported by travel lifestyle show The Jet Set, a woman attempted to bring an emotional support peacock onboard a United flight departing from Newark International Airport. While the bird had its own seat, it was denied boarding.

A United spokesperson tells Travel Agent that the airline spoke with the customer in the airport lobby. The animal did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size, United said. The airline also noted that it explained that to the customer on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport.

“United is dedicated to providing convenient and comfortable service to all of our customers,” the airline said in a statement provided to Travel Agent. “We know that some customers require an emotional support animal to assist them through their journey. In order to ensure we provide the best service to everyone onboard our flights, consistent with government rules we currently require these customers to provide documentation from a medical professional and at least 48 hours advance notice.”

Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations do not require airlines to transport 13 types of unusual service animals, such as snakes, other reptiles, rodents and spiders, because they “pose unavoidable safety and/or public health concerns.” The DOT recommends that airlines evaluate other unusual service animals on a case-by-case basis based on factors such as “the animal’s size, weight, state and foreign country restrictions, and whether or not the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, or cause a fundamental alteration (significant disruption in the cabin service).”

The incident comes not long after Delta updated its own guidelines for traveling with both service and support animals. Delta said that the new guidelines were necessary because it had seen an 84 percent increase in reported animal incidents since 2016, including a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog. Passengers also attempted to fly with a number of unusual support animals, including comfort turkeys, gliding possums, snakes and spiders. Under the new guidelines, customers flying with either service or support animals are required to show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance. In the case of support animals, customers will now also need to provide a signed document confirming that their animal can behave, in addition to the previously required letter by a doctor or licensed mental health professional. The new Delta guidelines take effect March 1.

United told Travel Agent that it is reviewing its existing policy and plans to share more details soon.

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