United Copies Delta’s Crackdown on Emotional Support Animals

Two weeks ago Delta announced a supposed crackdown on fake emotional support animals. All they really did in practice was say they’ll require advance notice, proof of health and vaccinations, and insist passengers attest that their animal can behave.

That’s been reported to be some sort of revolutionary step in the face of an 86% increase in emptional support animals onboard Delta planes since 2016. In practice it’s unlikely to do much other than symbolically.

Since American and United do what Delta does American says they’re studying similar changes and United announced that they’ve copied Delta’s changes also to go into effect March 1.

United joined Delta in requiring notes that confirm the animal’s health from a veterinarian and that confirm the animal’s training to behave in a public setting, to avoid problems with urination or defecation during the flight.

…Delta and United have expanded the list of prohibited animals to include hedgehogs, ferrets, possums known as sugar gliders and non-household birds

United says they’ve seen a 75% increase in emotional support animals on board, growing “from 43,000 in 2016 to 76,000 last year, according to Charlie Hobart, a United spokesman.” They also say they’ve been reviewing their policy since last year — but of course actually made a decision to change their policy once Delta did, and decided their new policy would be what Delta said theirs was going to be.

The move comes after the viral video of the emotional support peacock that was denied carriage on United Airlines under their current approach.

Actually getting serious about emotional support animals might look something like this:

  • Require a veterinarian’s note about the fitness of the animal to travel around other people not a self-certification from the passenger
  • Require insurance provided by the passenger
  • Require that the pet either fit underneath the seat or in a paid-for seat next to the passenger
  • Require that in all cases that they remain inside a carrier while inflight although not necessarily under a seat.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Is Delta the only one of the US 3 that has any sort of executive competency or strategy??? AA and UA seem to be in a race to the bottom and are only bobbing to the surface to copy Delta. Sheesh!

    And @gary, I agree with your list of needs for support animals. It’s about time the airlines started having some guts to stand up and quit getting walked all over by travelers who don’t need a support animal.

  2. I want to be very clear this only applies to emotional support animals like one commenter implied… Not all support animals – those like guide dogs, hearing dogs, animals that can detect an imminent attack, etc. should continue to be accommodated with minimal restrictions. Those customers did not choose to be blind/deaf/or have specific illness, just the short end of the stick in life sometimes and only specific breeds can fulfill certain duties.

    Emotional support animals on the other hand do not have to be a particular animal. The woman with the peacock chose to have that as her ESA rather than a dog/cat/mice/snake/etc. Very different thing.

    At least this is all a step in the right direction. If it doesn’t improve much in the next 1-2 years I can imagine airlines will add more teeth to the requirements for ESAs.

  3. Amtrak needs to look into this, too. In 16 years of taking the Autotrain, I had never seen an animal on it until last trip. Before the train, there were a number of dogs wearing cryptic vests and barking at everyone in sight in the waiting room. They were clearly not trained service dogs. The Autotrain does not make stops, so the nearby [passengers had to put up with feeding and water bowls and pee pads and barking dogs during a 12+ hour trip.

  4. Again, glad to see this. Long overdue.
    But it wouldn’t be necessary if the airlines didn’t gouge the traveler with exorbitant pet carry-on on fees. It is a carry-on. They must fit under your seat and you can’t open the carrier. Why should it cost $125 each way? Absolutely NO REASON except to rip-off the traveler seeking to fly with their pet.
    Reduce it and make it even $50 each way and they’d get rid of 90% of the ESA scammers–and they’d increase revenue on top of it. Just greed, greed, greed and then complaining when people find a way to work around the system. Corporate greed again ruining the flight experience for everyone.

  5. Donald, what bothers me and most others about these fake “emotional support animals” is not that people aren’t paying money to have their pets on board — it’s that there are (non-service) animals in the cabin at all. I’m not suddenly going to like someone’s stinky, untrained dog sniffing around my briefcase because that person paid the airline some money.

    I don’t recall ever seeing a single non-service animal on a flight until 10-15 years ago, whether a pet or an “emotional support animal.” Clearly, for non-blind people, having animals on planes is not an actual human necessity.

  6. @shza
    Pets brought aboard on approved carriers have to fit under the seat, and the animal needs to be able to turn around fully inside. Those requirements alone dictate that it will be a small dog or cat inside.
    Unless you’re lying on the floor of the plane with your nose where your feet should be I don’t know how you’d be smelling anything.
    Pet carriers have been around for decades and I have seen small dogs and cats on board since the 1970’s when I was a child.

    This got out of hand due to an ambiguously written ADA law and proves natural instinct to try to scam the system and get something for free. Most of these ESA cheaters will now just leave “precious” at home. But for those without a true medically certifiable illness who still wish to bring their small pet along either out of necessity or by choice, it would be nice it the airlines didn’t double the price of their coach ticket.

  7. Whoaa, Nelly, whoaaa, I said whoaaa. How does TSA let an uncertified ESA through, but oversize luggage, bottles of water, 4oz of shaving cream, gets thrown out? Everyone loves Fido, nobody wants pets to be treated like cargo…because there is a 50% chance the cargo is treated better, but the airline assn needs to go back to the meeting room on this active topic. If UA can rebook a customer on Delta, does the uncertified ESA take a later flight on AA or UA? We aren’t going to figure this out on a blog, but 50 billion dollars of airline market cap should be able to.
    BTW, we all know that airlines can’t resist selling $50 seats for $500 because someone can’t part with their pet, or vice versa, for 2hours. We know who runs TSA, it took 15 years, but we do know.

  8. It always amazed me that the safety aspects of carrying an animal onboard were trumped by the “rights” of the passenger with the animal. You can’t even have a laptop or purse unsecured during takeoff and landing, but you can have an 80 pound dog? And you must put all your belongings under the seat in front of you to keep the area clear in case of evacuation, but you can have your “support turkey” sitting at your feet?

    This is crazy….and thank goodness airlines are starting to use common sense.

  9. Grocery stores should enforce the law too…..no animals unless true legitimate service animals.

  10. Grocery stores should enforce the law too…..no animals unless true legitimate service animals. Talk about pet parents feeling entitled.

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