Pick a New Airline to Fly With Your Emotional Support Horse

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If you fly with some regularity, you have probably seen an emotional support animal or two or twenty on your journey. Emotional support animals can provide a tremendous service in helping their owners stay calm and complete a variety of life tasks, like flying, that might otherwise be too stressful to manage successfully. However, there are also those who use the ability to fly with an emotional support animal for no additional charge under the Air Carrier Access Act as a way to simply transport a regular old pet in the cabin. No offense against regular old pets, as I’ve got one I’m pretty fond of myself, but they aren’t the same as specially trained and necessary support animals. They also aren’t the same as service dogs, which is a totally different category of typically very well trained dogs.


My regular old dog, Holly

Delta notes that they now transport about 700 service or support animals per day, which adds up to about a quarter of a million per year. That’s a pretty big number. They say customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, possums, snakes, spiders, and more. Here’s a story about an emotional support turkey. Add in the reported 84% increase in reported animal incidents since 2016 such as onboard potty accidents, biting, and more and you have a real problem on your hands.

To try to bring the situation back under control, effective March 1, 2018, Delta will require that all customers traveling with a service or support animal show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance. In addition to the current requirement of a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, those with psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals will also need to provide a signed document confirming that their animal can behave to prevent untrained, sometimes aggressive household pets from traveling without a kennel in the cabin.

Animal emotional support animals that aren’t a dog or a cat will be considered on an individual basis, Delta does specifically call out the following species as not being permitted:

  • Hedgehogs
  • Ferrets
  • Insects
  • Rodents
  • Snakes
  • Spiders
  • Sugar gliders
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Goats
  • Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, & birds of prey)
  • Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor
  • Animals with tusks, horns or hooves

You may think that list is a joke, but United’s site expressly permits species such as miniature horses and monkeys as emotional support animals, though they do ban rodents, reptiles, snakes, and ferrets in the cabin of the aircraft. Can you imagine how thrilled my girls would be to see a miniature horse flying across from them on a plane?!

I am a big time animal lover and former social worker, so I totally get the need for emotional support animals, but I 100% support Delta in trying to get a handle on what is a largely unregulated and growing issue that can have bad consequences for those who really need their support animals as well as the general flying public. That said, since Delta already requires a letter from a doctor or licensed mental health professional (that you can easily order online), I’m not sure what requiring a second letter about the animal’s behavior or vaccinations will do in practice.

Have you flown next to any interesting emotional support animals?

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  1. I am not a fan of this. I’m a huge animal lover but also have severe allergies to cats. I get anxious before a flight worrying if One will be seated near me. Not sure why my rights aren’t as important.

  2. This is the biggest scam going right now. People claiming their da*n pet is an emotional support animal so they can avoid paying pet fees/deposits at their apartment complex and avoid transportation fees when flying. For $69.95 anyone can log on to numerous websites, upload a picture of their pet, and POOF it’s an instant emotional support animal with a “certificate!” In the past, landlords and airlines were so afraid of being sued for discrimination by the ADA that they let this slide. Legislation, at all levels, needs to catch up to what’s going on now and stop this abuse. It’s not fair to those with a legitimate travel need for a legitimately certified emotional support animal. (…stepping off my soapbox)

  3. Hi Summer, I am a former social worker, as well and a school psychologist. This is a concern of mine and needs to be addressed procedurally, and possibly legally. I believe there should be a list of physical conditions that warrant the right to use a service animal in places where normally they would not be allowed. For example, visual and hearing handicapping conditions, seizures and other debilitating conditions. While I certainly empathize with people who have anxiety and emotional disorders, I don’t feel that they should be in the same category as a permanent physical disability. Yes, I’m sure you will have people outraged by what I have just said. However, there is psychotropic medication for a vast majority of emotional disorders. One has to draw the line somewhere. Why should we expect someone who may be highly allergic to animals to have to take medication because someone doesn’t want to take an anti-anxiety medication for flying. This issue is only going to be abused until something negative happens (pet bites someone, someone sues the airline etc.), resulting in more stringent regulations. I’m hoping that time comes soon.

  4. This is why Delta is my favorite US airline. It is a no BS airline. Most of these “emotional support animals” are there only to support their owner’s pocket since they are fake. Their owners are huge liars and are gaming the system. The other day a guy boarded the plane with a huge German Shepherd and sat on first class. Before taking off he put a diaper on the dog. The dog sat on the floor in front of him the entire flight. While the dog was quiet I could see the passenger next to it was not happy at all. Kudos to Delta for shutting the door on fakers. BTW, I am hugely allergic to cats. However, if there is a cat on board he has preference and I have to leave the plane if I am uncomfortable flying with the cat. What a joke!!!!

    • “Kudos to Delta for shutting the door on fakers.”
      Santastico : Please don’t kid yourself, a little extra paperwork that is still easy to obtain isn’t going to stop the abuse. This “entitled class” with supposed emotional support problems(?) will still game the system to their economic benefit. Unfortunately, the potential of your having allergy problems with onboard “support felines” increases everyday. Fly enough and it will not be an issue of “if” but “when” ——–

  5. My guess is that a letter saying an animal is trained then gives the airline grounds to prevent an animal from flying as an ESA in the future if the animal demonstrates that is not actually the case.

    • Interesting that a dumb(?) animal needs to be certified as “trained” but not kids (and in some cases, adults) in order to fly.

      • Oh Queenie, come on now. Airlines are public transportation, so you get all kinds of public. They are not primarily animal transportation, at least not in the passenger cabin. Exceptions and kenneled pets are one thing, but probably don’t need to be the rule.

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