United Updates Policy On Emotional Support Animals

Filed Under: United

A couple of weeks ago Delta announced that they’d be updating their policy when it comes to emotional support animals. Airlines have seen a huge spike in the number of passengers traveling with emotional support animals, and they’re finally starting to crack down on this. United has announced that they’re following Delta’s lead and updating their policy on traveling with emotional support animals.

United says that this update is an effort to better balance protecting their employees and customers while accommodating passengers with disabilities. They claim that year over year they’ve seen a 75% increase in customers bringing emotional support animals onboard, and as a result they’ve seen a significant increase in the number of incidents involving these animals. They say that the DOT’s rules regarding emotional support animals aren’t working the way they’re intended to, which is why they’re changing their policies.

United arrived at their new policy based on working with their accessible travel advisory board, and based on receiving feedback from customers, flight attendants, pilots, employees with disabilities, and organizations representing passengers with disabilities.

Currently customers with emotional support animals must provide 48-hours notice to the accessibility desk and a letter from a mental health professional. Starting March 1, 2018, in addition to a 48-hour notice and an enhanced letter from a mental health profession, United will also require customers traveling with an emotional support animal to provide further documentation, including:

  1. The customer must provide confirmation that the animal has been trained to behave properly in a public setting and acknowledge responsibility for the animal’s behavior.
  2. The customer must also provide a health and vaccination form signed by the animal’s veterinarian. The veterinarian must also affirm that there is no reason to believe that the animal will pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft or cause a significant disruption in service.

United’s policy regarding service animals remains the same, and the airline continues to prohibit hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles, sugar gliders, non-household birds, exotic animals and animals not properly cleaned or carrying a foul odor, to be carried in the cabin.

As I said when Delta updated their policy, this won’t completely eliminate the number of people taking advantage of the emotional support animal system in the US. Even those who want to take their pets onboard as emotional support animals should be able to get a confirmation that their animal has been trained to act properly in public, and a health and vaccination form isn’t too tough to get either. However, by increasing the documentation requirements, it will certainly reduce the number of people who do so.

Bottom line

United is matching Delta almost exactly here. Both airlines are instituting new policies on March 1, 2018, and both are requiring additional documentation for those traveling with emotional support animals. My guess is that American will update their policy as well, which will make it more complicated to travel with an emotional support animal.

I’m curious to see to what degree this actually reduces the number of these animals on plans.

Do you think these new standards from Delta and United will lead to a huge decrease in the number of emotional support animals on planes, or no?

  1. No, won’t make a difference because there are many, many entitled assholes. I’m sorry, but the whole concept is absurd.

  2. 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.

  3. Agree with Donald.

    If the airlines just made it $35-50 for your pet one way that is what they would pay to see a doctor to obtain the forms.
    So that might avoid having people do it so much.

  4. Step in right direction. Hopefully they have staff able to verify the letters within the 48hr window.
    Can see a lot of bogus ones being made.

  5. Agreed. Overkill just for revenue.

    The pets in your personal item which is free and must go under the seat. $125 is ridiculous price gouging.

    And what heck is “certified trained to behave”? Can we get that requirement for kids please.

    The dogs are the nicest things on most flights. I will miss them.

  6. Agree with M Simon! Who’s going to verify documentation sent within a 48 hour window? Airlines staffing up for this? I foresee additional “fake” certificates you can buy online – they will be raking it in. I’m tired of all of the fake “service” dogs – doing a huge disservice to those with valid & certified service dogs.

  7. Thank heavens. I know people who readily admit they are using the system. Not funny. Also not good for passengers with allergies to animals in a confined space. This needs to be controlled.

  8. I sure hope so. It is obvious to me as a lay person, even though I am a surgeon, that the vast majority of the animals I have seen come aboard, are the graduates of internet school, and cash for certificates!!! Making sure the employees and airline stand their ground is critical. Better still the traveler should get a certificate from a valid psychiatrist/psychologist for the need.

  9. Is this just for US carriers? Would Air France for example allow this? My wife is allergic to most dogs.

  10. It really is so cruel to subject animals to airports. It breaks my heart every time I see one there. Leave your pet at home please.

  11. As I understand this, the airlines have transferred a lot of risk to the health professionals writing these letters. It seems they might be responsible for any problem the animal causes. IMHO this will eliminate 99% of the letters being written.

  12. I as far I’m concerned, they couldn’t make tough enough! This is crazy!
    Unless it is a seeing eye dog, I can’t see a reason for animals on a plane.

  13. A few days ago I read that United refused to let somebodies pet, I mean emotional support peacock on a flight. Almost fell off the chair laughing with that one.

  14. I think this is a good step in the right direction. I am tired of almost stumbling over large emotional support dogs who aren’t properly trained, not to mention being highly allergic to dog and cat dander. The one that takes the biscuit in terms of sheer effrontery was on a recent Celebrity 15-night cruise. We were talking to a couple sitting next to us, pleasant enough, who excused themselves because they were going to friends’ birthday party for their 18-year-old cat. I guess I looked a little, well, curious because animals aren’t usually allowed on board. The response was, “Oh, they got it certified as an emotional support animal.”

  15. I strongy agree with the comment:
    “And what heck is “certified trained to behave”? Can we get that requirement for kids please.”

  16. Seems the only things they forgot to consult wwere the Air Carrier Access Act and DOT regulations.
    Yeah, I’ll throw a Trump reference in here since I don’t see one yet and point out the airlines seem to be making up laws as they go.

    Has something changed since the Nov ’17 DOT guidelines ?

    I don’t get to make up whatever rules I want by consulting a panel I invented.
    Airlines are the last business that should be allowed to do so.

  17. American is now the airline for fake emotional support animals and pets!

    The documentation required isn’t onerous. It is still not that hard to have a fake service animal.

  18. I had to pay to fly my 17 pound child on my lap 10% of the fee I paid for my ticket. That would be fair if they can meet all of the other requirements. Why can the emotional support bed who weighs more than my under 2 lap child fly for free? I is about time the airlines took the steps to stop this

  19. America home of the brave and land of the stupid…….

    What a joke, I can’t survive without my pet snake to keep me sane????

    I would make the owners get a certificate as well…….because they lack common sense

  20. About time.

    But for all of those complaining about the price gouging on under the seat pets, I have actually yet to see an ‘emotional aupport’ pet that would fit under the seat. They have all been huge dogs.

  21. Agree with everyone that says this whole “emotional need for pets” is a huge scam! I’m totally sick of passengers bringing pets on flights. It’s completely out of control! Should be, at most, for blind persons. And I don’t understand how the commenters that said reducing the fees will reduce the abuse. What? Eliminate the whole scam!

  22. Animals and Greyhound buses kind of match. If you are not emotionally balanced and needs support you probably should not be locked on a plane. Or stay home.

  23. Meh – I’ll just have the local shop that issues the medical marijuana paperwork issue some emotional support animal paperwork. Maybe even have them issue a few dozen oxycodone prescriptions and issue me a Native American decent pedigree, like Elizabeth Warren, while I’m at it. Or, I can just skip the trip and photo shop all that paperwork.

    You’re gonna love that paperwork for my emotional support turkey buzzard. Of course he also needs to bring his own emotional support animals, which we find flattened by the roadside.

  24. Now I get it. It is “free” to take Fluffy on the plane, and it costs money to leave Fluffy at the kennel.
    Leave the beasts in your hometown. SFO is starting to look like a zoo.

  25. My wife needs me for emotional support when she flies. I am an animal, aren’t I? Why can’t I fly for free?

  26. Guess I’ve been lucky not to have come across ANY animals on board in my travels to the US… This concept is quite weird, but reading about how badly animals in transport were handled by US carriers before…

  27. Stop this entire emotional support nonsense. This is an entirely made-up concept. Trained service dogs with blind passengers are acceptable, all others go to the cargo hold.

  28. Can you all celebrate this new policy without bashing the people with actual legitimate psychological conditions who need to get places (you know, like potentially a death in the family, or a medical emergency, or a wedding) and need ESA’s. The commenters on here obviously don’t care about disabled people as long as they get to sip their champagne in first class.

    It strikes me that while this makes it harder for fake ESA’s to get on board, it makes it harder for people with legitimate ESA’s to get on board too (the 48 hour rule makes it hard for someone to get last minute vaccination paperwork even if they have a totally valid certified animal). United’s cracking down on potential revenue losses, but at the expense of actually disabled passengers.

  29. “And what heck is “certified trained to behave”? Can we get that requirement for kids please.”

    …and for adults.

  30. Smoking used to be rampant on airplanes too. Now people who smoke are forced to wait for however many hours the flight is – to light up. For those people it is truly a misery but the laws were passed for the greater good.

    Likewise people who require an animal to be in a cage under their seat while they fly for emotional support have to decide if they really want to fly or can handle a few hours on a plane without their pet.

    I also ask the same question as Claus – what is an emotionally ill person that the only medicinal cure is having their pet nearby? Do those people become unhinged if separated from the pet? Are they dangerous or mentally ill otherwise?

    I do understand that there have been problems with cargo and baggage handlers. This is a big reason for people to bring carry-ons and animals onto airplane with them. Those issues need to be addressed by the airlines so we have confidence that our belongings and beloved pets are being handled and treated with respect.

  31. Look, I understand what you guys are all saying, but I have a severe anxiety disorder and I can not travel at all without my conure (small parrot). This whole things a mess for me as anytime I travel she has to come with me, but I can’t even get the ESA license now as it is because someones “emotional support llama” bit someone and my psychiatrist can’t take the liability risk. My bird is perfectly well behaved and harness trained, and we are working on litter training. Im having to jump through so many hoops with this as it is, I just wish there was a way to get all the fakers out without making it hard for people like me. My bird is so much better behaved and much easier to travel with than an untrained dog or cat would.

  32. Ive always wondered how these people make sure their ESAs dont go poo poo on the plane. Dogs can be trained. How in heavens name does one train a bird?

  33. Does it mean that all customers with emotional support animals will switch from Delta/United to American?

  34. There is no such thing as a legitimate ESA, the entire concept is a scam, hence why it does not exist outside America

  35. Hmmm. I guess I am waiting to take delivery of my ESA. I have an order in for a T-Rex, or a Mammoth which ever they can clone first. Perhaps they can adjust the size gene when doing it to make the size more manageable. Can I have that certified, as apparently any other pet seems to be.

  36. AMEN to many of the sane comments.. It was about time they put a stop to that bunch of entitled Liberals that are leading their way in the pussyfication of America.

    Sad for the BRAVE Veterans with PTSD who legitimately could benefit from ESA (the genuine concept where this started).. Maybe the real fair and logic solution is to allow them only to Veterans? I’m sure they are on of the few correct enough to not lie or abuse of the whole concept.

  37. actually, ESA can help people with PTSD, so this is a real concern for people who are suffering to be with their animals. While ESA animals are not service animals, they can fulfill a useful purpose.
    But I have seen dozens of people with pets claiming that they’re support animals, and it’s a slap in the face of anybody who is actually struggling psychologically from depression or PTSD and for whose benefit the ESA rules were made.
    The issue that many times these animals are not trained, and it’s pretty gross.
    Actual service animals such as seeing-eye dogs on the other hand, are generally amazing, and would never bother me even if they’re right next to me.

  38. The first time I flew with my dog to France it was $50 dollars each way for him to be under the seat and I was happy to pay it. The last time I flew with a dog it was more for her spot under the seat than my ticketed seat. That is crazy. The airline didn’t provide any service for the dogs and I lose carry on space. I pay but I completely understand people gaming the system.

  39. What was so toxic in the us that many citizens needed all this emotionally support/psychiatric health support animals for all these mental derangements? It’s sad that so many folks need some therapy animals from that environment.

  40. Have never had an unpleasant flight when there is an “animal” on board… but plenty nightmarish flights with little human animals onboard crying and yelling all night. While we are at it, can we please make strict regulations for them, and ban them from
    the business/first class cabins?

  41. I love the idea of all kinds of animals onboard passenger vehicles. It will finally provide that 3rd world ambiance travelling with a bunch of pigs, goats, chickens, dogs and cats. If I have to inhale all that animal goodness in an enclosed space, let’s further certify these animals are non-GMO and gluten free.

    I have received certs for my Emotional support beehive Which have been also trained in diversity, inclusiveness, green-ness and support the Me Too! cause.

  42. I forgot there is an alternative to all those who need to subject others to their emotional problems and animals: fly Greyhound

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