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United Airlines Tightens Rules for Comfort Animals After Peacock Denied Flight at Newark

The change to emotional support animal policy is similar to changes Delta Airlines announced last month

What to Know

  • United Airlines wants to see more paperwork before passengers fly with emotional-support animals
  • The airline announced Thursday that it will tighten rules starting March 1; the changes are similar to those coming at Delta Airlines
  • The move comes days after an emotional support peacock caused a stir at Newark Airport

United Airlines announced an update to its policy for emotional support animals after an emotional support peacock was denied entry to one of its flights at Newark Liberty International Airport last week.

The airline said it’s making the change after seeing a 75 percent increase in customers bringing emotional support animals onboard planes. Along with the surge in such animals came “a significant increase in onboard incidents involving these animals,” United said.

“The Department of Transportation rules regarding emotional support animals are not working as they were intended to, prompting us to change our approach in order to ensure a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers,” United said Thursday in a statement announcing the change.

The policy change affects emotional support animals; the airline said the policy remains the same for service animals. 

Under the previous policy, passengers flying with emotional support animals had to give 48-hour notice to United’s accessibility desk and provide a letter from a mental health professional.

Under the new guidelines, those passengers still have to give 48-hour notice and provide an "enhanced" letter from a mental health professional. In addition, they have to prove the animal has been trained to behave properly in public and acknowledge responsibility for the animal’s behavior. They also have to provide a health and vaccination form signed by the animal’s veterinarian. The vet must affirm that the animal poses no direct threat to the health and safety of others on the aircraft, and that it won’t cause a significant disruption in service.

United said the new policy goes into effect on March 1 and that customers who have approved documentation on file may use it for their next trip. Any new reservations would be subject to the updated policy, according to the airline.

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The change comes less than a week after a woman reportedly bought a second ticket for her emotional support peacock and tried to bring it on a flight at Newark Airport. United Airlines refused to let the bird board the plane, according to Live and Let’s Fly.

Photos posted to social media show the oversized bird perched on a suitcase cart handle at the airport Saturday.

"I'm not kidding this woman is wrangling her peacock into the airport," one woman said as she shot video. "Right now. Wrangling a peacock into the airport. Yep. That happens all the time."

The peacock is named Dexter and reportedly has its own Instagram account, according to the Washington Post.

The topic of emotional support animals on flights has come to the forefront in recent weeks.

Delta Airlines issued new regulations on emotional support and service animals on Jan. 19 requiring passengers who want to fly with animals must provide proof of their pet's training and vaccinations 48 hours before they board.

Like United, Delta will also require passengers who bring support animals to provide a document signed by a veterinarian or licensed mental health professional verifying that their animal can behave. The new regulations will also take effect March 1.

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