Lonely Planet Writer

How airlines are dealing with weird emotional support animal requests

Another month, another unusual emotional support animal makes international headlines. Earlier this week in Orlando, a Frontier Airlines flight was delayed by two hours as a woman refused to get off the flight with her emotional support squirrel. It’s not the first such incident in recent aviation history and many American airlines are taking steps to restrict the types of animals brought on board.

An emotional support squirrel caused quite a scene in Orlando. Image by Jim Larson / CC BY 2.0

In January, Delta Airlines announced new restrictions to the types of emotional support animals (ESAs) brought on board, in light of “serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight.” Shortly afterwards, United Airlines followed suit with a list of banned species and Southwest Airlines adopted a similar policy in August, although they do allow miniature horses if they’re registered service animals.

Hedgehogs, insects, ferrets, rodents , reptiles, snakes, spiders and ‘non-household’ birds will now no longer be allowed to accompany their owner onboard United and Frontier Airlines flights. In addition, ESAs need to have 48 hours notice before travel and prove they are “trained to behave properly in a public setting”.

Emotional support pigs are becoming more and more common. Photo by Michael Duva

United Airlines said that in just one year, the amount of requests to carry emotional support animals has risen 75%, totalling 76,000 per year and this unprecedented increase has sparked the need to review restrictions.

The practice of having an emotional support animal is more common in the United States. While dogs and cats are still the most common form, the classification has been applied to pigs, monkeys, lizards and more unusual creatures. Currently 14 domestic US airlines, including American Airlines, Sprint and Delta, do accept some emotional support animals onboard when they have the proper documentation.

Dogs have become an increasingly common sight on flights. Photo by Brian Finke

Internationally, Air France, Lufthansa, Japan Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic all accept some emotional support animals. Passengers should always check the most up-to-date requirements from their airline before planning a trip with their animal companion.

The new rules do not affect Service Animals, which are legally protected by law as they provide a specific service to passengers with physical disabilities. This legislation only protects dogs and, in some rare cases, miniature horses.

Unusual emotional support animals on airlines

– In October 2000, a 300-pound pig flew from Philadelphia to Seattle after the owners had a note declaring it a therapeutic companion pet. The pig spent the flight in first class but when the flight landed, it ran through the aircraft, even attempting to get into the cockpit. At the time, a spokesperson said “We can confirm that the pig traveled, and we can confirm that it will never happen again”. However, it was not the last pig incident on the airline.

– In December 2014, a woman made headlines when she was asked to leave her US Airways flight when her emotional support pig started defecating and howling in the aisles as she was boarding.

– In 2010, photos emerged of a kangaroo apparently flying from LA to Dallas on American Airlines.

– In July 2015, a NBC producer flew with her dog and tortoise on two separate flights with a letter she had bought online and wasn’t questioned by airline staff.

– Daniel the duck (full name Daniel Turducken Stinkerbutt) went viral in October 2016 when he accompanied his owner from Charlotte to Asheville, North Carolina. Mark Essig, who took the viral photo, told the Washington Post that “most everybody was delighted to have a duck on a plane. As they should be.”

– In January 2018 a woman was refused entry to her United Airlines flight in Newark with Dexter, her emotional support peacock. Despite offering to buy the bird its own ticket, it was refused due to exceeding the airline’s weight and size guidelines.

This article was originally published on 7 February 2018 and was updated on 11 October.