United Tightens Travel Rules for Emotional-Support Animals

United Airlines is tightening its requirements for passengers flying with emotional support animals following a surge in numbers and onboard incidents across the industry.

The move, announced Thursday, mirrors steps taken by Delta Air Lines Inc. DAL -0.62% last month. Other carriers are reviewing their policies after an effort by the Transportation Department to create new industrywide rules stalled last year.

United said the number of animals brought on for emotional support jumped 75% over the past year. Starting March 1, United will require passengers to certify that their animal will behave, and provide documentation from a veterinarian that it is fit and safe to fly.

The carrier already bans animals including hedgehogs, ferrets and nonhousehold birds from the cabin, and said it would continue to review that list. The airline last weekend barred a passenger from bringing a peacock on board a flight at Newark Liberty International Airport.

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The unit of United Continental Holdings Inc. UAL -0.99% already requires passengers to notify the airline 48 hours in advance of plans to bring animals onboard.

United said it would maintain its policy for service animals, which don’t require advance notice or special documentation.

Delta last month said it would tighten its policies as of March 1 after an 84% increase in biting incidents and other disturbances since 2016.

Carriers said the lines between what counts as a service animal had become blurred.

“The Department of Transportation’s rules regarding emotional-support animals are not working as they were intended, and we need to change our approach in order to ensure a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers,” United said.

The department last year worked on revising the existing rules, but didn’t issue new guidance. The transportation department plans to launch a new public consultation this year in an effort to refine its definition of what constitutes a service animal, said an agency spokesperson.

Critics of the airlines’ moves said they are trying to boost revenue with fees for flying animals in the hold, a charge the airlines deny.

Write to Doug Cameron at doug.cameron@wsj.com

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