You have likely heard about the recent attempt by an individual to board a flight with a peacock who purportedly served as an emotional support animal. See, e.g., “Woman denied emotional support peacock on United Flight.”
United has published current rules regarding Psychiatric/Therapeutic/Emotional Support Animal Authorization on its website, which indicates that changes to the current requirements will be forthcoming:
Pursuant to the Department of Transportation (DOT) guidance for the carriage of service animals, United requires a passenger with a qualified disability traveling with a psychiatric/therapeutic/emotional support type animal to obtain documentation from their medical/mental health professional.
This form is only valid for travel between now and February 28, 2018; additional documentation will be required for travel on or after March 1, 2018.
Other documentation may be required for travel entering or exiting an international location.
United requires service animals to be “properly harnessed for the duration of the flight. Small animals may remain in the passenger’s lap during the flight. If a carrier will be used, it must meet the USDA guidelines and fit under the aircraft seat.”
Notably, the airline also states that animals “must be trained to behave appropriately in a public setting. Animals found not to have been trained to behave will only be accepted in accordance with United’s current pet policies or may be denied boarding.” (Emphasis in original).
There is additional information on United Airlines’ Service animals webpage:
Beginning March 1, 2018, United will require additional documentation for customers traveling with an emotional support animal. Currently, customers must provide 48 hours’ notice to the Accessibility Desk and a letter from a licensed medical/mental health professional. For travel on or after March 1, customers will need to also provide a veterinary health form documenting the health and vaccination records for the animal as well as confirming that the animal has appropriate behavioral training.
Additional information and forms will be available soon, so please continue to check united.com if you have upcoming travel with an emotional support animal. The process for trained service animals is currently not changing.
We have published several blogs about legal requirements and provisions governing the use of service and emotional support animals. Individuals with legitimate disabilities may be disadvantaged by those who want to travel with their pets but have no legitimate disability or emotional disorder. Since specific certification is not required for service or emotional support animals, but a plethora of websites offer registration, vests and identification cards provided for a fee and based on the honor system, it is easy for people to fake it.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has published a comprehensive “Service Animal Definition Matrix—Air Carrier Access Act vs. Americans with Disabilities Act,” dated July 1, 2016, that includes helpful definitions, questions and answers summarizing information about:
- The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and 14 CFR Part 382;
- DOJ’s interpretation of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA);
- FRA’s interpretation of Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) 49 CFR 37.3;
- FTA’s interpretation of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 49 CFR 37.3, 37.167(d); and
- HUD’s FHAct and/or Section 504.
In addition to definitions based on the above-mentioned categories, helpful questions and answers are included in the matrix, including, for example:
- Should disability mitigation training for the animal be required as a condition of access?
- Should public access training for the animal be required as a condition of access?
- Should the rule designate eligible species and, if so, what species should be allowed? Should the rule allow certain species to travel as service animals subject to certain restrictions (such as remaining contained during flight)?
- What requirements should the rule impose to prevent fraud in the documentation process.
This matrix, while not legal advice, should be helpful to airline and other carriers considering whether to amend their policies regarding travel with emotional support animals.
It may be worth considering policies to permit pet owners to purchase seats for certain pets, with reasonable requirements for health and behavior, since it is likely that many people would pay for these tickets, if available.