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Sorry, kitten: United Airlines tightens rules on emotional support animals

Sorry, kitten: United Airlines tightens rules on emotional support animals
A dog awaits a flight in its carry-on container. United Airlines has adopted new rules on flying with emotional support animals. (Robert Mooney / Getty Images)

United Airlines is tightening up the rules on flying with emotional support animals, part of an industry crackdown on passengers who take advantage of the laws for fliers with disabilities.

Starting Jan. 7, United Airlines won’t allow emotional support animals on flights more than eight hours long and won’t accept kittens or puppies under 4 months of age on any flight, regardless of the length of the flight.

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In addition, United Airlines will allow only dogs and cats as emotional support animals and will accept dogs, cats and miniature horses as service animals, which have training to assist passengers with physical disabilities.

United said it would honor reservations made before Jan. 3 under the previous animal rules.

United’s new policy is similar to Delta Air Lines’ rules regarding animals announced last month. In September, Southwest Airlines adopted a new policy that only allows dogs and cats as emotional support animals and only if they are restrained by a leash or kept in a carrier.

The new rules are an effort by airlines to deal with a surge in passengers bringing animals on flights in the last few years.

The federal Air Carrier Access Act says airlines must allow animals to travel with passengers with disabilities, without charge.

But airlines say it is far too easy for fliers to get documentation from a medical professional declaring that a pet is an emotional support animal that is needed to accompany a flier. Some fliers are just trying to avoid paying animal transport fees and don’t need emotional support, airlines say.

The U.S. Department of Transportation opened the door for airlines to adopt new rules when the agency announced in May that it wouldn’t take action against airlines that imposed restrictions on passengers traveling with emotional support animals.

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