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With more airlines tightening the leash on support animal policies, what actually merits bringing one on a flight?

Guide dog at Newark Liberty Airport
Guide dog at Newark Liberty Airport
Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

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If you’ve flown commercially recently, maybe you’ve noticed that it seems like an awful lot of dogs are being allowed to fly with their owners in the airplane’s cabin. If so, you’re not alone.

Emotional support animals are typically household pets that a medical professional has deemed necessary for a person’s mental well-being. They differ from service animals, which complete rigorous training to become certified to assist someone with a physical disability like blindness or difficulty hearing.

In recent years, more and more airline passengers have been taking emotional support animals on flights with them, and it’s gotten the attention of not only other travelers, but the airlines themselves. And it’s not just dogs they’re seeing, but pigs and ducks and, in one instance, even a peacock.

Earlier this year, both Delta and United announced they would be streamlining their policies for emotional support animals by requiring passengers to give proof 48 hours before the flight that the animal is in good health and is up-to-date on vaccinations, and to acknowledge responsibility for the animal’s actions during the flight.

On Wednesday, JetBlue announced that it, too, would be narrowing its rules for emotional support animals on flights. United says it saw a 75 percent uptick in passengers flying with emotional support animals compared to 2016, and Delta says complaints about animals biting someone or relieving themselves during a flight have doubled since 2016.

What is the difference between a service animal, an emotional support animal, and a therapy animal? How do airlines see these animals differently? Have you noticed an increase in the number of airline passengers traveling with animals? If you have an emotional support animal or therapy animal, what has your experience flying with it been?


Aubrey Fine, licensed clinical psychologist based in Claremont who specializes in human-animal interaction and animal-assisted therapy; he is also the chair of the steering committee on human-animal interactions for the American Veterinary Medical Association and author of several books on human-animal interaction, including "Handbook on Animal Assisted Therapy" (4th edition, Academic Press 2015)