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A Delta 777 departs from Frankfurt (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Fabian Behr)

Delta To No Longer Accept Emotional Support Animals

Delta has become the latest airline to announce that emotional support animals will no longer be permitted to fly onboard its aircraft.

The new policy comes as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a final rule, dropping the requirement for airlines to recognize emotional support animals as service animals.

The DOT’s final rule defines a service animal as any dog that is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” The rule goes on to allow airlines to recognize emotional support animals as pets.

Delta’s updated policy follows input from frontline teams and recommendations from their Advisory Board on Disability.

David Garrison, the airline’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Safety and Security, said in a press release: “Our top priority is the health, safety and comfort of Delta customers and our people.

“We strongly believe this policy change will enhance the overall travel experience for everyone.” continued Garrison.

Delta’s policy changes on January 11, when the DOT rule goes into effect. From then, it will no longer accept new bookings for emotional support animals. Customers holding tickets for emotional support animals confirmed before this date may still travel as planned. After this date, customers wishing to travel with a pet will have to follow the airline’s Travel Policy requirements.

The policy change also lifts the ban on pit bull-type dogs, so long as they meet the requirements for trained service animals. The airline will continue to deny boarding to any trained service animal that “poses a threat or demonstrates aggressive or inappropriate behavior in a public setting,” it says.

Allison Ausband, the airline’s Senior Vice President of In-Flight Service welcomed the rule change, saying: “The DOT’s final rule enables airlines to put the safety of all employees and customers first while protecting the rights of customers who need to travel with trained service animals.”

Not the first

Delta isn’t the only airline taking advantage of the change in rules by the DOT.

On December 29, Alaska Airlines revised its service animal policy to no longer accept emotional support animals from the same date. However, existing bookings will be honored until February 28.

On Tuesday, 5 January, American Airlines also announced changes to its policies for emotional support animals. American will also no longer authorize new travel for animals not meeting the new definition of service animals. It will, however, honor existing bookings through February 1.

Ray Prentice, the Director of Customer Advocacy at Alaska Airlines, said in a press release: “This regulatory change is welcome news, as it will help us reduce disturbances onboard, while continuing to accommodate our guests traveling with qualified service animals.”

Similarly, American’s Jessica Tyley – President of Cargo and Vice President of Airport Excellence – said: “We’re confident this approach will enable us to better serve our customers, particularly those with disabilities who travel with service animals, and better protect our team members at the airport and on the aircraft.”

Customers traveling with trained service dogs on American, Alaska or Delta will also be required to submit DOT documentation 48 hours before departure.

Alaska Airlines stated in its press release that changes to the rules “came after feedback from the airline industry and disability community regarding numerous instances of emotional support animal misbehavior which caused injuries, health hazards and damage to aircraft cabins.”

David Garrison at Delta said that their updated policy: “follows a nearly 85 percent increase in animal incidents since 2016, including urination, defecation and biting.”

From January 11, Alaska Airlines will begin limiting the number of service animals allowed per passenger to two. The limit on American is already one, and Delta’s website states “Delta accepts passengers traveling with multiple service animals,” although “the need for multiple animals will be assessed.”

Not Everyone’s Barking Mad

The change in the ruling has, however, been met with criticism from disability advocates.

Curt Decker, the Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) said in a statement: “Once again, in an almost systemic manner, DOT has decided to prioritize the airline industry and corporate interests over the rights afforded to people with disabilities under the law.”

“While it is no secret that we still remain far from a truly accessible transportation system in this country, the DOT rule will only serve to exacerbate existing inequities for people with disabilities participating in air travel and will instead almost exclusively accommodate the interests of the airline industry,” continued Decker.

Connor Sadler
Connor Sadler
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