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

Delta Airlines Service Dog PaperworkFederal 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.

Service Dog Fraud is a Problem
Abuse of federal Service Dog travel policies is rampant.

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.

Service Dog on Delta FlightThe 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:

  1. The Service Dog in Training is being transported by a professional trainer and is en route to the new (and forever) handler
  2. 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.


  1. As the owner of a Hearing Service Dog, Also the trainer, we have completed 6 months of training in basic Service Dog Training, and taking part in a 2.5 year Hearing Alert Training program. I have no problem with what is proposed except that they must sit under the seat. My assist dog is 9 lbs, and would be of no use to me if she were not allowed to alert me because of being forced under a seat. A hearing assist dog must respond to and be very alert to different sounds, her training is that she will “touch” me with her paw or lick the back of my hand. She will lay in a chair or booth at a restaurant for over an hour without moving, unless my phone rings. The biggest problem we have is well meaning, uninformed people wanting to pet her even with sign on her vest that says “Do NOT Pet”. (unfortunately she is cute and well behaved and some people can’t resist). I am tired of all the wealthy people that just want to bring their pet that serves no purpose except to feed their ego.
    I answer and explain (yes I get tired of it)) what she is and why I need her, I cannot hear: the phone, the doorbell, a knock at the door, the washer out of balance, a warning tone, ie. fasten seat belts – etc. When we finish, we will have been in training for 3 years, and work all day, every day, the training really never ends if you want a truly effective Hearing Dog. They must be alert, and have access to the handler. The relationship is critical between the Dog and the Handler. Thanks to Delta for working on this problem.

  2. So glad the airlines are working to clamp down on the abuse. I am working toward a service dog myself, but there is definitely a problem in the terminals and on the planes. If a faker’s dog behaves impeccably then I can concede; when a dog is flat-out untrained and uncontrolled, then I have a big problem. Service dogs have off days, but flight crews know the difference and will try to help where they can.

    I wish more people would understand that, yes, it is cool that we GET to take our dogs everywhere, the drawback is that we HAVE to take our dogs everywhere. We can’t afford to have regulations tightened down so much that we can’t participate in life anymore (again).

  3. My Working Service Dog is a Great Dane, I have Copd with Broc.Ashma and Fibromyalgia really bad. She steady my walking, help me up from chairs, couches or wherever I need as my legs are weak. So her legs are mine. Where would she have to go if I fly do to her size? And would be able to get to her fast after plane lands?

  4. 1) How is the ACAA vague? It is clearly stated with point by point requirements and a FAQ to clarify additional questions?

    2) From whom did you gather your list of inappropriate behaviors that might result in the removal of the animal? Did the author develop them or Delta?

    3) Does the author realize that the “health form” is a vaccination verification form and that in lieu of this form vaccination records including the appropriate information may be uploaded? This information should have been included.

    4) Does the author realize that the ACAA covers public access training for ESAs as a requirement in its transportation matrix by definition?

  5. The problem with purchasing an additional seat is that the airline will absolutely steal it and put a body in it, especially if they overbook.

  6. I’m hearing impaired, I am not def. My service dog is supposed to bark when someone is trying to talk to me, approach me, a car is coming, the lady is about to hit me with the food cart on the airplane. Just because people don’t like the noise my hound makes doesn’t mean she isn’t doing her job. If I’m approached from behind your getting barked at it’s her job, I can’t hear don’t be stupid.

  7. There’s no option to purchase a seat for a large dog. That doesn’t exist. If you suspect people are faking service dogs then make it possible for non service dogs to fly in the cabin. Not under the plane where you are notorious for killing animals

  8. I have no problems with needing to provide vaccination records, doctor affidavits and attest to my service dog being trained. I had to provide all of that for my CA dog license. My issue with all of this is having my mental health related disability treated differently than any other one. These requirements unfairly single us out. Both my service dog and I have had hundreds of hours of training, together and separately. We have had to develop an extremely close bond. It is one very similar to those required to help detect the subtle shifts that their owners who have epilepsy or diabetes exhibit.

    I understand that there are many ESAs and SDs that are fake. These individuals should be charged with fraud. But segregating us with mental health disabilities is wrong. If this was an employment or public access issue it would be a dirext violation of the ADA. Why is this any different? What makes my disability any less severe or debilitating than one that is purely physical? Treat all Service Dogs the same. Require the same documentation for those with physical AND mental health related disabilities!!