The relationship between airlines, pets, Service Dogs, and Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) has long been a tense one. Delta Airlines hopes to clarify the issue with new requirements, guidelines, and expectations for Service Animals and ESAs planning to fly in-cabin.
Delta Airlines, like all American airlines, must abide by federal regulations. When it comes to Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals, federal regulations can be vague and easy to misunderstand. After a recent 150% plus surge in the number of in-cabin animals Delta transports per year under these guidelines, incidents involving aggression, sanitation issues, and false claims of status have been rampant.
Delta Airlines & Federal Regulations
Federal Service Dog regulations concerning air travel simply state that fully trained Service Dogs must be allowed to travel in-cabin, with their owner, at no charge. The policies require additional guidelines for the accommodation for of ESAs. Furthermore, airlines cannot seek out proof of training, certification, or other “paperwork.” They must accept the credible verbal assurance of the passenger, as well as the presence of harnesses or other working gear.
Airlines may ask whether or not the animal is a trained Service Dog, and they may inquire as to the work or tasks the animal performs. These open-ended questions result in thousands of people falsely claiming their pets possess Service Dog status. This abuse of the policy means they can bypass the fees required for pets to fly. Unlike Service Dogs, pets (and ESAs), rarely possess the extensive training background and temperament necessary for high-stress work in public.
Abuse of Federal Service Dog Transport Requirements on the Rise
Incidents involving so-called “service dogs” and other travelers, flight crew, and legitimate teams range from the annoying to the downright dangerous. Hundreds of people per year report being a harassed. Flight crews recall housetraining incidents resulting in planes being grounded, and stories of inappropriate behavior can’t be numbered. Service Dog teams have been lunged at, growled at, and outright attacked.
Understandably, safety concerns involving the animals allowed to accompany passengers have climbed sharply. Reports of in-flight animal incidents have risen 84 percent since 2016, a result of “a lack of regulation,” Delta said. More untrained animals are being brought onto planes, where they urinate, defecate, bark, growl, lunge and exhibit other behavior uncommon among companions that are properly taught.
In June 2017, a 70-pound Labrador mix mauled a man on a Delta flight in Atlanta. The gentleman suffered multiple lacerations and punctures, and he needed several dozen sutures.
Delta’s Updated Service Dog Transport Guidelines
Delta Airlines wants “to find a solution that supports those customers with a legitimate need for these animals, while prioritizing a safe and consistent travel experience,” said Delta’s senior vice president of safety, security and compliance, John Laughter.
As of March 1, 2018, all passengers with service or support animals will have to submit proof of health or vaccinations through Delta’s website at least 48 hours before their flight. The PDF form (titled “Trained Service Animal Request“) can be downloaded, taken to your veterinarian, filled out, and then uploaded to your Delta Airline’s flight reservation.
Additionally, customers with Psychiatric Service Dogs and ESAs must also sign a document affirming the animals’ ability to behave in the cabin. If the animal cannot behave as required, they risk being barred from boarding or removed from the plane. Behaviors such as growling, jumping, inappropriate elimination, excessive, non-task work related barking, eating off seatback tray tables, or otherwise behaving in a disruptive fashion could result in the removal of the animal.
Both United Airlines and American Airlines agree with the steps taken by Delta to ensure compliance with the federal guidelines and passenger comfort. Delta Airline’s Service Dog policies are some of the most stringent in the industry.
The federal Transportation Department said in an email on Friday that it planned to solicit public comments this summer on the appropriate definition of a Service Animal. They’re also seeking suggestions for strategies to prevent travelers from abusing that definition.
“Air travel should be safe for passengers and airline employees and accessible for all passengers,” the agency notes. “We will monitor Delta’s policy to ensure that it preserves and respects the rights of individuals with disabilities who travel with service animals.”
The agency has made other moves in recent years to address the increase in service and support animals.
Delta Airline’s New Service Dog Policy Clarification
Per the Delta Airline’s website and official release, Delta Airlines is NOT requesting or requiring proof of a Service Dog’s training. The form you submit contains proof of vaccinations for your fully-trained Service Dog. ESAs require additional documentation, including proof of health status and an agreement to abide by training and behavioral guidelines.
Delta Airlines does not transport Service Dogs in Training. Two exceptions to this policy include:
- The Service Dog in Training is being transported by a professional trainer and is en route to the new (and forever) handler
- The Service Dog in Training is actually a fully trained Service Animal flying with a professional trainer so the animal can continue training or receive additional education
Delta Airlines transports multiple Service Animals, including multiple Service Dogs handled by a single person. However, handlers must still adhere to all stated policies. The handler plus the dogs cannot infringe on another passenger’s space, nor can they extrude into the aisle. The dogs must sit on the floor. If the dogs are larger than the passenger’s personal space, they may need to be re-accomodated on a later flight. The passenger may need to purchase an additional seat so both dogs can fly without infringing on seatmates.
Service Dogs sit on the floor. They may not occupy a seat. They may not sit on the tray table.
Service Dogs flying to international destinations may or may not undergo additional screening. Always check requirements prior to international flights.