Delta, the world’s second-largest airline, has announced new regulations for passengers hoping to fly with service and support animals.
Beginning on March 1, 2018, passengers with furry (or scaly, slimy, or feathered) support animals will need to provide documentation on their animal’s health and vaccination history 48 hours prior to departure. As of right now, passengers with emotional support animals (ESAs) must carry a note from a licensed medical professional confirming that the passenger has a mental health-related disability for which they require or significantly benefit from traveling with their animal. Moving forward, these passengers will also have to provide a signed letter confirming that the animal can behave properly while free in the cabin.
According to the airline, Delta flights carry about 700 service animals every day, or about 250,000 per year. Some of these animals are specialized “service dogs” (and apparently service miniature horses) that aid people with various medical conditions. These animals are unlikely to cause a ruckus in public because they are highly trained, and legislation from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) ensures that their owners may live with them in any rental housing, bring them into businesses, public areas and hospitals, and use public transport such as buses and trains. Customers traveling with these legitimate service animal will only be required to provide the animal’s health record, not the medical note.
The real issue that has led to this crackdown is the explosion in popularity of emotional support animals (ESAs). The Department of Transportation, who oversees national travel system policy, is laxer than the DOJ; They lump loosely regulated ESAs (also called assistance animals) together with service animals in the instance of air travel.
Essentially any animal that is not deemed a threat to public safety (sorry no snakes, spiders, or mongooses) can qualify as an ESA, as long as the owner carries a note as mentioned above. No training is required.
Because ESA documentation is shockingly easy to obtain and apply to existing pets, people have, of course, been abusing the loopholes.
“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” Delta officials wrote in their rather testy public statement. “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.”
The company reports that there was an 84 percent rise in animal incidents between 2016 and the present, including peeing or pooping in the aisles and growling or lunging at other customers/airline staff, and even the rare attack. Essentially, they’re very tired of dealing with “behavior not typically seen in these animals when properly trained and working.”
Prior to these restrictions, airlines already had the authority to remove a passenger and their service animal or ESA if said creature posed a direct threat to the safety of others, or if its presence caused a significant disruption to the flight. Personnel can also move you and your animal to different seats.