After Peacock Kerfuffle, United Airlines Is Changing Its Support Animal Policy

This is why we can't have nice things!

Unless you’ve been living under a peacock news rock, you probably heard about Dexter, the “emotional support peacock” who was recently prohibited from boarding a United Airlines flight. His owner, a New York City-based performance artist named Ventiko, had actually purchased a seat for the colorful bird, but — emotionally supportive creature or not — United Airlines strictly prohibits anything “protruding into the aisle.” (Ventiko and Dexter are now road-tripping to their destination.)

Even though Dexter was denied entry due to his girth rather than his emotional support status, he still inadvertantly reopened the floodgates for the emotional support animal debate. United had already been reconsidering its policy after seeing a 75% year-over-year increase in emotional support animals on its planes. (They flew 43,000 in 2016, and 76,000 in 2017.)

Although plenty of emotional support animals are totally valid, there is also a sizable percentage whose owners are simply taking advantage of a loophole in the airline industry. (Emotional support animals are guaranteed space on board and exempt from the usual pet fees.)

In fact, the situation has gotten so out of hand, Delta Airlines recently announced that starting March 1, they will require three points of proof: 1. Health and vaccination records issued within the 48 hours before flying; 2. A signed letter from the vet stating the ESA can behave uncrated; and 3. A signed letter from a doctor or mental health professional speaking to the passenger's need to travel with the animal.

And now, after the Dexter debacle, United Airlines is following suit. "The airline's increased requirements for emotional support animals will reduce fraud and protect the legitimate need of animal assistance for passengers with disabilities and veterans,” said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants who worked with United on their policy change. “This is about maintaining safety, health and security for passengers and crew, while ensuring accessibility for those who need it.”

While it obviously isn't a perfect solution, the airlines hope is that if owners have to jump through hoops, they'll be more discouraged from gaming the system. And with American Airlines reportedly considering the same regulations, it may soon become standard practice with all major domestic airlines.

While the changes will mean a bit more of a hassle for legitimate emotional support animal owners, hopefully it will mean less headaches and delays for passengers sky-wide.

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