Delta Reverses Course on Service Animals

Delta aircraft

Delta has updated its new service and support animal policy to remove a controversial provision that would have required travelers who are blind or have reduced vision to submit health and vaccination forms for their service animal online prior to flying.

"We are implementing these changes for the safety of all customers, employees and trained service and support animals flying Delta, while supporting the rights of customers with legitimate needs, such as veterans with disabilities," said John Laughter, Delta's senior vice president — corporate safety, security and compliance. "While we will require that all animals not confined to kennels in the cabin have up-to-date vaccinations, we enhanced our policy to make online submission optional for those individuals who are blind or have reduced vision or other disabilities and have trained service animals."

Under the new guidelines, which are effective March 1, customers traveling 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, Delta’s mobile app, airport kiosks or with an airport agent.

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Previously, Delta had announced that the new rules taking effect March 1 would have required all customers traveling with a support or trained service animal to show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance. The rule drew criticism from advocacy groups like the National Federation of the Blind, which argued that trained service animals were safer than other types of support animals, and that the requirement could prevent travelers with guide dogs from flying in family, medical or other emergencies.

"We are pleased that Delta has responded in a timely way to the concerns we raised about their policy for guide dogs and other service animals, including making enhancements," said Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in a written statement. "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."

Delta said that it developed the initial rules in consultation with the airline’s 15-member Advisory Board on Disability, but that since the initial announcement it had continued conversations with a diverse mix of advocacy groups.

Under the latest version of the guidelines, customers traveling with an emotional support or psychiatric service animal will still 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 online at least 48 hours before travel. They will also be required to use the full-service check-in process with an airport agent.

Delta said that new rules were necessary due to a major uptick in safety incidents involving service and support animals, which the airline said were up 84 percent since 2016. United Airlines has issued similar new rules, also effective March 1, after an incident in which a woman was barred from bringing an emotional support peacock on a flight out of Newark.

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