In a news release, Delta (NYSE:DAL) said its updated policy "[S]upport[s] 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."
|Emotional support dog Juan Carlos|
Delta carries approximately 700 service or support animals daily — nearly 250,000 annually. Putting this into perspective, Delta carries more than 180 million passengers annually.
Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums, snakes, spiders and more. 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 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," John Laughter, Delta's Senior Vice President — Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance, said. "As a leader in safety, we worked with our Advisory Board on Disability to find a solution that supports those customers with a legitimate need for these animals, while prioritizing a safe and consistent travel experience."
In developing the updated requirements, Delta solicited the feedback and input of its 15-member Advisory Board on Disability, a group of advocates established more than a decade ago and made up of Delta frequent flyers with a range of disabilities. Delta also incorporated feedback from other advocates for passengers with disabilities.
"We are pleased that Delta responded in a timely way to the concerns we raised about their policy for guide dogs and other service animals," Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said. "We also note Delta's expressed commitment to listening to its passengers. In light of that commitment, we look forward to sharing our expertise with Delta so that it can provide equal service to blind passengers in all of its operations."
Since Delta's announcement, other airlines have implemented changes and media outlets continue to highlight the lack of regulation and the increased availability of fraudulent certification. Outside of the aviation industry, a dramatic increase in fraudulent service animals has led 18 states to introduce laws that make it a crime to fraudulently represent a service animal.
DELTA'S UPDATED POLICY
Any customer traveling with a service or support animal on or after March 1 will need to meet these requirements:
Traveling with a trained service animal
• In some cases, customers with a trained service animal may be asked to show the animal's Veterinary Health Form and/or an immunization record or other proof that the animal's vaccinations are up to date. Customers are encouraged, but not required, to submit this form to Delta's Service Animal Support Desk via Delta.com before traveling.
• These customers can check-in via Delta.com, the Fly Delta mobile app, airport kiosks or with an airport agent.
Traveling with an emotional support animal or psychiatric service animal
• Customers traveling with an emotional support animal or psychiatric service animal will be required to submit a signed Veterinary Health Form and/or an immunization record (current within one year of the travel date), an Emotional Support/Psychiatric Service Animal Request form that requires a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, and a signed Confirmation of Animal Training form. These forms are required and must be submitted to Delta's Service Animal Support Desk via Delta.com at least 48 hours before travel.
• These customers must use the full-service check-in process with an airport agent.
Editor's note: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is clear: Emotional support animals, comfort animals, and therapy dogs are not service animals under Title II and Title III of the ADA. Delta is taking a somewhat more relaxed approach but still setting some standards, which is important for the sake of all passengers. The emotional support dog pictured above, who was on one of my recent flights, was quiet and well-behaved. Would that it were always so.
Additional information on types of accepted animals and other questions related to traveling with service and support animals is available here.
It is high time businesses in general started enforcing the rules about the types of animals allowed on their premises. Some, like hardware retailer Lowe's, are pet-friendly while others are not. My hope is that Delta's move will embolden those who are still waiting for a spine donor to start enforcing the policies they have in place.
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Photo by Carl Dombek
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