The friendly skies have gotten a lot more animal-friendly lately thanks to easier rules on what pets passengers can bring aboard commercial flights. However, one airline is barking back at the veritable Noah’s Ark of animals travelers are toting with them on the plane.
Delta announced today that it would be tightening restrictions on the emotional support animals passengers can fly with, beginning March 1, 2018. According to the announcement, the move comes as Delta tries to mitigate safety risks, including a an onboard dog attack in June, that have been the result of non-service and untrained animals flying with increasing frequency.
Here is how Delta framed its action:
“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.”
The airline claims it flies approximately 700 service or support animals daily, or about a quarter million annually. That is a lot. But it’s not all dogs and cats safely stowed under the seatback.
“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” the airline said.
Delta further castigated pet-owners for “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals,” saying that “it can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.” The airline cited an 84% increase in reported animal incidents including urination, defecation and bites since 2016 and a 150% increase in flying service and support animals overall since 2015.
To be clear, the airline pointed out that this behavior is not typical from actual trained service and support animals.
To resolve these issues, Delta announced new guidelines in compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act allowing for free cabin travel for service and support animals that will go into effect on March 1. Customers traveling with a service or support animal will have to show the following documentation:
• Proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance
• A letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional (which you already need to show)
• Passengers 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.
Delta also claims that it came to this decision based on customer demands.“We have received extensive customer feedback through calls, emails and social posts — many from among those within the disability community — urging Delta to take action,” said John Laughter, Delta’s Senior Vice President — Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance. “This new policy is our first step in better protecting those who fly with Delta with a more thoughtful screening process.”
The airline came to this decision and developed the updated requirements with the help of its 15-member Advisory Board on Disability, a group of disability advocates established more than a decade ago and composed of diverse Delta frequent flyers with a range of disabilities.
There is no response yet from the Department of Transportation, but the Association of Flight Attendants released a statement saying, “’AFA adamantly supports this move by Delta for increased requirements for emotional support animals…. We are seeing more and more animals in the cabin and it appears there is growing abuse of the system. We are hearing a public outcry to stop the abuse. We are especially concerned that if it is not put in check, those who legitimately need the animal support will not have access to it. We need better regulations in place to protect the rights of people with disabilities and our veterans who legitimately need to travel with these animals.
Though no other airlines have yet announced plans to revise their own rules or requirements, the AFA announcement also expressed the following sentiment: “We hope other airlines will consider similar policies and that the Department of Transportation will take this opportunity to provide guidelines for curtailing abuse while protecting the needs of those with disabilities and veterans.”
Chances are other U.S. airlines already have their own rules reviews underway and that this announcement from Delta is the first of several more to come regarding animal travel.
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Inset Image: AP Photo/File