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Sorry, your emotional support hedgehog is not allowed on the plane.
Southwest Airlines is the latest large carrier to tighten the leash on passengers bringing emotional support animals (ESAs) onboard. The airline announced that starting in September, only dogs and cats on a leash or in a carrier will be allowed to fly as ESAs and passengers can travel with only one animal.
Those traveling with an ESA also must present a letter from a doctor or a licensed mental health professional, as the airline looks to crack down on passengers abusing the use of an ESA in order to fly with their pets free of charge.
Federal regulations allow some disabled passengers to fly with their service animals, and the Air Carrier Service Act allows for those with mental-health issues to travel with an ESA free of charge if it helps alleviate anxiety.
However, airlines are looking to reduce the amount of people cheating the system by getting certified online for an ESA without any proof just so they don't have to pay for their pet to travel.
Airlines and cruise lines are also trying to halt the procession of an array of animals such as ducks, pigs, kangaroos, and hedgehogs that passengers are using as emotional support animals. In January, United Airlines turned away a customer traveling with an emotional support peacock.
The issue has been building the past two years. Delta has seen an 84 percent increase since 2016 in incidents involving animals, such as biting, urinating and defecating on the plane.
"The ‘emotional support animal’ situation is out of control," Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at the Atmosphere Research Group, told TODAY in 2016. "Most passengers don’t want to be on an airborne Noah’s Ark."
The airline announced in June that it has also banned any pit bull dogs after saying two employees were bitten by one traveling as a support animal. American Airlines announced in May that it had updated its policy to ban travel with insects, hedgehogs, ferrets, goats and a host of other animals.
Royal Caribbean Cruises has taken it a step further and banned them entirely with a policy that states that no ESAs of any kind are allowed on their cruise ships.
The stricter regulations appear to be here to stay as the U.S. Department of Transportation announced in May that it would not take any action against airlines imposing new rules about traveling with emotional support animals.
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