United Airlines will ban emotional support kittens and puppies on flights and prohibit all emotional support animals on longer routes.
The American airline is the latest to clamp down on its rules around animals onboard, following in the footsteps of rival Delta, which banned puppies and kittens in December 2018.
United is also joining Southwest in limiting the accepted emotional support animals to cats and dogs, which will now only be allowed to accompany passengers on flights of under eight hours. Puppies and kittens under four months old will no longer be eligible to travel in the cabin on any flight.
The airline will still accept miniature horses, along with cats and dogs, as service animals.
In the US, support and service animals can fly free of charge and without a carrier in the cabin under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act.
However, the increasing number of passengers taking emotional support animals on planes has seen a rise in incidents involving allergies, attacks and soiled cabins, prompting airlines to tighten the rules.
“We have seen increases in onboard incidents on longer flights involving these animals, many of which are unaccustomed to spending an extended amount of time in the cabin of an aircraft,” United said in a statement.
The new rules come into effect on 7 January, although the airline has said it will honour bookings made before 3 January and let passengers travel with animals under the previous guidelines.
The rule change follows a spike in the number of unusual animals brought onboard flights in the US. Last year, Delta revealed it carries around 700 animals daily, adding that passengers have attempted to fly with animals from comfort turkeys and gliding possums to snakes and spiders.
In January 2018, a United Airlines passenger tried to board a flight to Los Angeles with an emotional support peacock called Dexter. She offered to buy the bird a ticket, but was refused because he did not meet the size and weight guidelines.
Outside the US, emotional support animals are not recognised by most international airlines. However, passengers are allowed to take assistance or service animals – which are specifically trained to assist a disabled person – into the cabin free of charge in most cases.
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