Delta Airlines is a downer for doggies.
The airline just issued much stricter requirements on passengers who travel with emotional support animals.
In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of supposed service animals on airplanes, and more animals mean more pet-related safety issues in the skies. Federal law allows owners to bring service animals aboard the plane as long as they do not pose a threat to other passengers.
Delta has had enough, as have many of their passengers who have to fly sitting next to these animals, so starting March 1, there are new requirements.
Now, passengers will have to bring additional documents that show the need for the service animal. They’ll also have to provide vaccination records and proof of service dog training—both 48 hours prior to the flight.
Delta is the second largest U.S. airline when it comes to passenger traffic. The airline is responding to a 150 percent increase in the last two years (since 2015), in service animals accompanying disabled passengers.
The animals are usually dogs, and Delta has also experienced an 84 percent increase in “animal incidents”—pooping, peeing and even biting. Last year, there was a very publicized case of a 70-pound emotional support dog that mauled a passenger.
Delta says that the rise in these incidents has led to the airline’s decision. Delta senior vice president of corporate safety, John Laughter, said, “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.”
Every day, Delta flies 700 service animals. While most are dogs, some passengers have attempted to bring snakes, spiders and sugar gliders (kinda like a flying squirrel). Even. Support. Turkeys.
Who has a support turkey? And do the roles reverse in November? Delta says that passengers who are taking advantage of the current rules on service animals are creating a bad situation for those passengers who truly need the service animals onboard.
Although Delta is the first airline to tighten the rules, others like American Airlines are examining their policies as well.
A spokesman out of the Dallas-Fort Worth Texas hub said, “Unfortunately, untrained animals can lead to safety issues for our team, our passengers, and working dogs onboard our aircraft. We agree with Delta’s efforts and will continue to support the rights of customers, from veterans to people with disabilities, with legitimate needs.”
United Airlines is also following suit. The federal laws have been abused. Service animals are now seen everywhere in their cute little vests—on airplanes, in restaurants, and in stores. It has become a little industry on its own, with retailers selling vests, ID tags and fake service animal credentials.
Service dogs used to have a very limited use, for deaf and blind people. Now dogs are trained to detect other physical ailments like seizures and hypoglycemia. When emotional support for things like PTSD and anxiety was added to the mix, the use of service dogs exploded.
In 2011, the federal government had a fairly strict definition of a service animal—any animal specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for a disabled person. But when the Air Carrier Access Act, a broadening of the Americans With Disabilities Act, became federal law under the Obama administration, the definition was greatly expanded to include individuals who needed emotional or psychiatric support.
This could mean that anyone with a fear of flying can bring aboard a furry friend, although airlines are permitted under the law to ask patients for proof of a specific mental health diagnosis.
As emotional support animals, pets ride free of charge and unencumbered. They can travel sitting on their owner’s lap and are not required to even be caged. If you’ve flown recently, then you know that most airlines are at full capacity to cut costs. It makes for a tight squeeze. Passengers with dog or cat allergies are fed up, and flight attendants are too.
While the Department of Transportation doesn’t require airlines to track these flurry fliers, some airlines like JetBlue do keep the data; they fly more than 20,000 service animals each year.
Airlines aren’t the only ones dealing with this issue. Landlords are as well because the Fair Housing Act says that service animals must be accommodated, even if you would normally not allow pets on the lease.
This is creating the same safety issues for residents of apartment complexes and other group housing.
The federal government has no official agency that certifies service animals.
Instead, a few credible private organizations do, and they’re just as upset at the number of bogus online businesses that have popped up to provide fake papers. They too say this hurts everyone.
All areas of the service animal issue are being abused by people who don’t really need them, but just want to live in certain places and fly with Fido.
The government is grappling with the delicate balance of making sure disabled people have their rights while dealing with people who are abusing rights.