A traveler on a United Airlines flight departing Newark Liberty International Airport was denied access to her emotional support animal, which happened to be a peacock. United is now claiming that the animal's presence on the flight did not adhere to the company's policies, according to Fox News.
The passenger, who remains unidentified, claims she had even bought an extra ticket for the large bird.
"This animal did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size. We explained this to the customers on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport," said United in a statement.
Images of the peacock began going viral almost immediately, prompting responses that ranged from condemnation to approval, to making jokes out of United's decision.
Other airlines have recently started cracking down on the usage of emotional support animals: Delta has announced stricter regulations about allowing pets on flights.
“The rise in serious incidents involving animals in flight leads us to believe that the lack of regulation in both health and training screening for these animals is creating unsafe conditions across U.S. air travel,” said John Laughter, Delta’s Senior Vice President for Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance, in a press release. “As a leader in safety, we worked with our Advisory Board on Disability to find a solution that supports those customers with a legitimate need for these animals, while prioritizing a safe and consistent travel experience.”
Officials from American, United and Southwest Airlines have expressed support for Delta's stance, but have not yet announced any official changes in their policies.
"United is dedicated to providing convenient and comfortable service to all of our customers. We know that some customers require an emotional support animal to assist them through their journey. In order to ensure we provide the best service to everyone onboard our flights, consistent with government rules we currently require these customers to provide documentation from a medical professional and at least 48 hours advance notice," said United in an email, responding to questions about its position on the matter.
"In our effort to better balance protecting our employees and customers while accommodating passengers with disabilities, we are reviewing our existing policy and plan to share more soon," it said.
Disability advocacy groups have expressed concern over the new Delta rules.
“We are particularly troubled by the requirement that guide dog users submit paperwork to Delta 48 hours before flying. Travelers without guide dogs are not required to plan their travel 48 hours in advance,” said The National Federation of the Blind in a statement. “Furthermore, guide dog users will no longer be able to fly Delta in family, medical, or other emergencies.”