United Tightens Rules on Emotional Support Animals

Jan 4, 2019

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United has announced that effective Jan. 7 there will be new rules on emotional support animals. The new policy seems to be a carbon copy of the one Delta enacted only a couple of months ago.

The new policy will set a flight time limit of eight hours for emotional support animals. United is also limiting support animals to cats and dogs over four months of age.

2018 was the year of the emotional support animal for airlines. United says they saw an increase of 75% just in 2018. United also had one of the most publicized emotional support animal incidents of the year when a woman attempted to board a United flight with a peacock.

With all the new regulations and tightening of policies by airlines, it’s important to understand the difference between a Service Animal and Emotional Support Animals. Both types are clearly legally defined by Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, otherwise known as the ADA.

The ADA defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Examples include guide dogs, SSigDogs — which are specially trained to assist people with Autism — and seizure response dogs.

Title II and III specifically limit the service animal definition to dogs, it does however make allowance for the use of miniature horses that been trained for specific tasks. United’s policy for service animals does still allow passengers with service horses to fly. Service animals are normally easy to spot as they generally have vests that show tags stating the they are a “service animal.”

A man walks with his service dog in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Service dog. Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Emotional support animals are defined by the ADA as animals that “provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.” Animals in this classification are often referred to as therapy animals like those you might encounter in hospitals that visit patients. The big difference here is that these animals aren’t trained to preform specific tasks for their handlers. It’s normally a simple process to get an animal classified as an emotional support animal, where as service animals often have months of specialized training.

The Air Carrier Access Act requires airlines allow both types of animals. However the ACAA does not require airlines to accommodate animals other than dogs and allows each airline to set its own policy around other emotional support animals.

It would seem that even with the airlines cracking down, the trend of people bringing animals into the cabin under the “emotional support” umbrella won’t be going away any time soon.

Featured Image by United.

H/T: ABC News and adata.org

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