United Updates Policy on Support Animals, But Not Service Animals

United Airlines Editorial

United Airlines has become the latest carrier to update its policy regarding carrying service and support animals onboard.

As part of the new policy, effective March 1, a customer traveling with an emotional support animal must provide confirmation that the animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting and acknowledge responsibility for that animal's behavior, an airline representative tells Travel Agent. The customer must also provide a health and vaccination form signed by the animal’s veterinarian, and the veterinarian must also affirm that there is no reason to believe that the animal will pose a threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft or cause a significant disruption in service.

Customers who currently have approved documentation on file will be able to use it for their next trip. Any additional reservations will be subject to the updated policy requirements effective March 1. New forms will be available soon at united.com.

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Other parts of the policy will remain unchanged, including the current requirement that customers traveling with emotional support animals provide 48 hours’ notice to United’s Accessibility Desk and a letter from a mental health professional.

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 carrying a foul odor.

Additionally, the airline’s policy regarding trained service animals will remain the same. United does not require any documentation or advance notice from passengers who travel with service animals, other than for foreign travel if required by national law.

United said it was reviewing its policy regarding service and support animals after an incident last weekend in which a woman was attempting to board a flight at Newark airport was barred from bringing an emotional support peacock onboard. In announcing this latest policy, the airline said it has seen a 75 percent year over year increase in customers bringing emotional support animals onboard, as well as a significant increase in onboard incidents involving these animals. The airline says that the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) rules regarding emotional support animals are not working as intended, and that the company needed to change its approach.

That’s similar to a trend cited by Delta when it updated its own guidelines for traveling with service and support animals. Delta said that 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.

Unlike United, Delta’s updated guidelines apply to both emotional support animals and service animals. Customers flying with either type of animal are required to show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance, a requirement that the National Federation of the Blind criticized as too onerous for customers traveling with guide dogs.

In announcing its new policy, United noted that service animals are individually trained for public access to perform tasks for the benefit and safety of an individual with a disability. The airline says it will continue to monitor the new policy going forward.

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