black dog matthew
Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

Emotional Support Animals Banned on Long-Haul United Flights — And…

Passengers who purchase tickets as of today, Thursday, January 3, 2019 will not be permitted to originate travel with emotional support animals on any flights operated by United Airlines which are greater than eight hours in duration; and regardless of the date when tickets were booked, all emotional support animals will be banned on those flights effective as of Monday, January 7, 2019…

Emotional Support Animals Banned on Long-Haul United Flights — And…

…and passengers who purchase tickets as of today, Thursday, January 3, 2019 will not be permitted to originate travel on any flight operated by United Airlines — regardless of the length of the flight — with any service animal or emotional support animal who is younger than four months of age; and regardless of the date when tickets were booked, all service animals and emotional support animals who are younger than four months of age will be banned on those flights effective as of Monday, January 7, 2019.

Passengers who purchased tickets prior to Thursday, January 3, 2019 and have already requested to travel with an emotional support animal will be allowed to travel as originally ticketed.

Additionally, only dogs and cats will be accepted as emotional support animals — and only dogs, cats and miniature horses will be accepted as service animals — on flights operated by United Airlines effective as of Monday, January 7, 2019.

The stricter requirements augment those which United Airlines requires all passengers traveling with service dogs, psychiatric service animals or emotional support animals to provide documentation of proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance of the departure of a flight effective as of Tuesday, March 1, 2018.

“Expect other airlines to eventually follow the lead of Delta Air Lines and implement similar policies — if they have not already done so — as well as with similar enhancements.” That is what I first wrote in this article last month; and that is slowly coming true.

Animals Which are Not Permitted to Travel on United Airlines

United Airlines require all passengers traveling with emotional support animals to provide documentation of proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance of the departure of a flight effective as of Tuesday, March 1, 2018.

United Airlines does not accept the following exotic or unusual animals to be misidentified as emotional support animals or psychiatric service animals:

  • Hedgehogs
  • Ferrets
  • Insects
  • Rodents
  • Snakes
  • Spiders
  • Sugar gliders
  • Reptiles
  • Exotic animals
  • Non-household birds — such as farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, and birds of prey
  • Animals not properly cleaned and/or with a foul odor

A Reminder of the Definitions of Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

The official definition of a service animal — according to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice of the United States pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — is as follows:

Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

This definition does not affect or limit the broader definition of “assistance animal” under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of “service animal” under the Air Carrier Access Act.

Some State and local laws also define service animal more broadly than the ADA does. Information about such laws can be obtained from the State attorney general’s office.

Additionally, service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered — unless these devices interfere with the intended work of the service animal or the disability of the individual prevents using these devices. In that case, the individual must maintain control of the animal through voice, signal, or other effective controls.

An emotional support animal is a companion animal which provides therapeutic benefit to an individual designated with a disability — such as depression, bipolar disorder, panic attacks or anxiety as only a few of many examples. While only dogs — and, in a separate provision which need not be discussed here, miniature horses — can be officially designated as service animals, emotional support animals can also be cats and other animals as prescribed by a physician or other medical professional if the owner of the animal has a verifiable disability in accordance with federal law of the United States.

In order to prevent discrimination by commercial airlines — based both within and outside of the United States — against passengers on the basis of physical or mental disability, the Air Carrier Access Act was passed by the Congress of the United States in 1986; and here are where complaints may be registered against an airline via the official Internet web site of the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division of the Department of Transportation of the United States.

Employees of airlines are limited by law to the questions they are permitted to ask owners of animals brought aboard airplanes. Only two questions may be asked by employees of an airline — or of any other company, for that matter pertaining to service animals…

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

…and when the service an animal provides is not obvious, an employee of an airline or other company cannot do the following actions without violating federal law:

  • Ask about the nature of the disability of the person
  • Require medical documentation
  • Require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog; or
  • Ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task

Official Policies of Airlines in the United States

A commercial airline is permitted to require a passenger traveling with an emotional support animal provide written documentation that the animal is an emotional support animal — unlike for a service animal. A fee does not apply to service animals of passengers with disabilities — not even on airlines such as Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, which are known for their proliferation of ancillary fees.

Here is a list of airlines with links to their official policies pertaining to animals:


I believe that what both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines implementing is a step in the right direction; but although the new requirements may significantly mitigate the number of passengers who attempt to cheat the system — which is not fair to passengers who have legitimate service dogs or emotional support animals — the effort will not be enough to completely eliminate them, as some of those passengers who are determined to fraudulently pass their pets as legitimate service dogs or emotional support animals will continue to do so to save money.

I have written extensively over the years pertaining to service dogs and emotional support animals in the form of articles posted here at The Gate — including:

Photograph ©2013 by Brian Cohen.

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