The Department of Transportation has issued a statement on emotional support and service animals that will impact all the US airlines.
In particular, the federal government ruled that the Delta ban on pit bulls to be illegal. Delta had enacted a policy that prevented pit bull type dogs from flying, acting as either emotional support animals (ESA) or as service animals onboard.
What Stoked Delta’s Ban On Pit Bulls?
Delta instituted a ban against “pit bull type dogs” as support animals last year following several onboard incidents.
In one case, a passenger was left with a bloody face after another passenger’s dog attacked him. Of note, that 2017 incident involved a dog which was identified as a mix of chocolate Labrador retriever and pointer. That was a catalyst for the eventual ban, but it did not support Delta’s argument against pit bull dogs specifically.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Issued a “Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals on Flights.” In that statement, the DOT clarified the rules for airlines regarding animals traveling with passengers. The DOT stated airline employees can bar any animal they consider a safety threat at the time.
However, neither Delta, nor any airline as a whole, can enact a ban against an entire breed of dog or cat, such as pit bulls. This makes Delta’s ban of pit bulls illegal. In addition, Delta’s ban on emotional support animals on flights longer than eight hours is also ruled illegal.
The ruling says “airlines may require the passenger using the service animal [on flights longer than eight hours] to provide documentation that the animal will not need to relieve itself on the flight or that it can do so in a way that does not create a health or sanitation issue on the flight.”
That makes Southwest’s ban of support animals illegal as well.
Airlines Can Still Restrict Animals, Thanks To DOT
What may be a loophole for the airlines is that the DOT found that airlines may ask for and require prior documentation of the animal. That includes “vaccination, training, or behavior so long as it is reasonable to believe that the documentation would assist the airline in making a determination as to whether an animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.”
Airlines, like Delta, will likely demand a lot more proof and certifications of animals that a passenger hopes will fly as their service animal or emotional support animal.
These rules clarifications apply to all US carriers, but Delta’s pit bull ban stands out as the elephant in the room. For their part, Delta referenced their policies when questioned about in-flight incidents.
Delta continuously reviews and enhances its policies and procedures for animals onboard as part of its commitment to health, safety and protecting the rights of customers with disabilities. In 2018, Delta tightened its policies on emotional support animals by requiring a “confirmation of animal training” form as well as other official documentation. The airline also banned pit bulls and animals under four months of age as service or support animals. These policy updates reinforce Delta’s core value of putting safety first, always.
The DOT’s Final Statement also addresses a number of other issues, such as species limitations, containment, advance notice, and check-in requirements for Emotional Support and Psychiatric Service Animals.
Here is the ruling from the DOT in full with a final statement.
For as heated as this topic has been in social media and the press, I am quite surprised that the DOT only received 94 comments when the comment period closed on June 7, 2018.
The Department of Transportation is seeking to find a balance between the needs of the airlines, those traveling with special needs, and the general flying public. The goal is to “ensure and improve access to air transportation for individuals with disabilities, while also deterring the fraudulent use of animals not qualified as service animals.”
Anyone can go to Amazon and find a large assortment of ESA items for sale, thereby “validating” their animal or pet for flying as a service or emotional support animal. Airlines are fighting back and this latest rules clarification are aimed at improving the situation for all.
The greatest tool given and supported by the DOT is the requirement of proof and documentation ahead of flight is the animal’s training, vaccinations and behavior. Couple that with required 48 hour notice (emotional support animals (ESAs) and psychiatric support animals (PSAs) and check-in so the animal can be evaluated, and I bet we see the airlines put more of a burden on flyers wanting to bring their service animals onboard flights.
It’s unfortunate that many fraudulent abuses of this privilege affect the few that really need it.
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