Have a client flying with a service or support animal soon? Delta is rolling out new guidelines, effective March 1, requiring proof of health and vaccinations, which the airline says is a result of a lack of regulations that has led to safety risks involving untrained animals in flight.
Under the new guidelines, all customers traveling with a service or support animal will be required to show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance. In addition to the current requirement of a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, those with psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals will also need to provide a signed document confirming that their animal can behave, which Delta said is necessary to prevent untrained, sometimes aggressive household pets from traveling without a kennel in the cabin.
Customers traveling with a trained 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) for their animal to Delta’s Service Animal Support Desk via Delta.com at least 48 hours in advance of travel.
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 which requires a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, and a signed Confirmation of Animal Training form to Delta’s Service Animal Support Desk via Delta.com at least 48 hours in advance of travel.
“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,” said John Laughter, Delta’s senior vice president — corporate safety, security and compliance in a written statement.
Delta noted that it has seen an 84 percent increase in reported animal incidents since 2016, including urination/defecation, biting and a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog. Customers have also attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums (known as sugar gliders), snakes, spiders and more.
The new guidelines have drawn some criticism from the National Federation of the Blind, which called for a greater distinction between guide dogs and other service animals.
“We are deeply concerned that Delta Air Lines has taken this action without consulting the National Federation of the Blind, our division the National Association of Guide Dog Users, or any other democratically elected representative of blind Americans,” the organization said in a written release. “Blind people have safely and successfully used guide dogs for decades, but this policy fails to make a clear or practical distinction among guide dogs, other ‘service and support animals’ (as Delta puts it), and pets. Onerous restrictions on guide dog handlers do not resolve anything and violate the principle of equal access for passengers with disabilities. Furthermore, we believe that elements of Delta's policy, as currently articulated, violate the Air Carrier Access Act.”
The National Federation for the Blind also said that requiring travelers with guide dogs to submit paperwork 48 hours in advance is unnecessary and unlawful, and could prevent guide dog users from flying with the airline in family, medical or other emergencies. The organization has requested a meeting with Delta over the issue.
Delta said that the new rules were developed with the feedback and input of its 15-member Advisory Board on Disability, which the airline established over a decade ago. It includes a group of diverse Delta frequent flyers with a range of disabilities, the airline said.
Delta also noted that, while the Air Carrier Access Act requires the airline to permit service animals to accompany a passenger with a disability at any seat in which the passenger sits, untrained animals that have been misidentified as service and support animals are regularly reported to occupy seats, stretch across the aisles and move throughout the cabin during flight, often without restriction.