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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.
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:
- Sugar gliders
- 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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