I’ve written before about emotional support animals…and how some airline passengers routinely abuse federal law to avoid pet fees. Now Delta Air Lines is saying enough is enough.
Complaints over animal defecation, urination, and biting have risen 84% over the last few years. An estimated 250,000 support or service animals travel on Delta each year.
Delta introduces its policy change, effective March 01, 2018, in a carefully worded press release, which I want to break down below (bolding mine).
Delta Air Lines is taking steps to further protect its customers, employees and service and support animals by implementing advance documentation requirements for those animals. This comes as a result of a lack of regulation that has led to serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight. The new requirements support Delta’s top priority of ensuring safety for its customers, employees and trained service and support animals, while supporting the rights of customers with legitimate needs, such as disabled veterans, to travel with trained animals.
It’s a combative opening paragraph in which Delta defends its new rules on the grounds of safety and legitimacy before even discussing what they are. Throwing in the “disabled veterans” line underscores what a delicate issue this will be.
Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more. Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs. Delta has seen an 84 percent increase in reported animal incidents since 2016, including urination/defecation, biting and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog.
Even linking to a story on an emotional support dog attacking another passenger, Delta does what I have been waiting for a U.S. airline to do for many years: say enough is enough. Sure, by pointing to the ludicrous they downplay the far wider problem that most passengers bring their well-behaved “emotional support animals” merely to avoid paying pet fees. But that sort of revenue-based tone might lead to greater scrutiny.
New Rule: More Documentation, 48 Hours in Advance
Starting on March 1st, Delta will require proof of vaccinations and fitness to fly 48 hours in advance. That will include a signed document confirming their animal can “behave”.
In compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act, Delta provides in-cabin travel for service and support animals without charge. The guidelines, effective March 1, require that all customers traveling with a service or support animal show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance. In addition to the current requirement of a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, those with psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals will also need to provide a signed document confirming that their animal can behave to prevent untrained, sometimes aggressive household pets from traveling without a kennel in the cabin.
This will surely weed out some cases of abuse, but the owner of the aggressive rottweiler is not going to have any trouble finding someone to attest that their dog will be well-behaved.
Delta Pleads for Regulation
Delta wants regulation backing up its action. John Laughter, Delta’s Senior Vice President — Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance, argues:
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.
Ironically, however, it seems to me an Administration adverse to regulation or the enforcement of regulation is what has emboldened Delta to make this move. Let’s face it: there will be complaints and I believe those complaints will fall on deaf or unsympathetic ears.
Emotional Support Animals that are Prohibited on Delta
Did you know that Delta publishes a list of emotional support animals that it prohibits?
- Sugar gliders
- Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, & birds of prey)
- Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor
- Animals with tusks, horns or hooves
I think this is great news. Delta is right to tackle the abuse, even if it is really doing it primarily for revenue reasons and not safety…
> Read More: Debate: The Abuse of “Emotional Support” Animals