K-9s, felines . . . and peacocks.
Airlines that have begun talking about tightening restrictions on a proliferating array of “emotional support” animals on commercial flights may have found their case bolstered this week after a picture of a peacock that was reportedly denied a seat aboard a United Airlines flight traveled far and wide.
The Jet Set, a travel-focused television show based in Washington, posted the photo on Facebook of the resplendent blue-and-green bird, saying that the “emotional support peacock” had been denied boarding on a flight at Newark International Airport.
United Airlines confirmed that the exotic animal was barred from the plane Saturday because it “did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size.”
“We explained this to the customer on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport,” a spokeswoman for the airline said in a statement Tuesday.
United Airlines did not identify the bird’s owner, citing privacy policies.
In response to the post, many people criticized passengers’ decisions to bring such animals on planes.
“Now its getting out of hand,” one person wrote beneath the Facebook post about the peacock.
“People are abusing this and causing those with true service animals difficulty,” another person added.
“Ridiculous to think she could fly with an bird this size. A very loud large bird,” another one wrote.
Federal guidelines specify that airlines must permit passengers with disabilities to board with trained service animals or emotional-support animals of many stripes, regardless of the animal’s potential to “offend or annoy” others on the plane. But airlines have some latitude to deny boarding to certain “unusual” service animals, including snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders. When deciding to allow animals such as miniature horses, pigs and monkeys, the airlines must determine whether the animal is a threat to the health or safety of others or would cause a disruption on the flight.
The Washington Post reported this month that Delta Air Lines has seen large increases in the numbers of passengers with service or comfort animals in recent years. The Department of Transportation does not collect data on the number of service and support animals on flights, but disability-related complaints that it tracks related to service animals nearly quadrupled between 2012 and 2016.
Those statistics have added to the perception among airlines and some disability rights advocates that some people use federal law to fraudulently bring pets on to airplanes. Passengers traveling with animals for emotional support can be required to provide recent documentation from a mental-health professional for their pets, but the documents are easily forged or obtained from websites that provide questionnaire-style “exams.”
Stories abound of scenes seemingly out of a parody movie: A duck wandering around an airline aisle, or a flight attendant who said that they were asked to administer oxygen to a dog that its owner claimed was having an anxiety attack midflight.
Delta announced new restrictions on service and emotional support animals this month. United said in a statement that it was reviewing its policies to better balance the protection of its employees and customers with the need to accommodate passengers with disabilities.
“We know that some customers require an emotional support animal to assist them through their journey,” it said.
Karin Brulliard contributed to this report.