Beginning March 1, Delta Air Lines will require passengers flying with emotional support and service animals to submit documentation at least 48 hours in advance of travel.
In a press release announcing the policy change, Delta pointed to a series of abuses in which passengers “have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more.” The airline reported a rise in animal-related incidents onboard, “including urination/defecation, biting and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog.” When customers without a qualifying disability attempt to pass their pets off as service or support animals, all passengers suffer. I believe we can agree with Delta on that point.
Unfortunately, the airline has chosen to address these issues by placing an additional burden on all passengers traveling with service and support animals, including those who have a legitimate need. The policy is reproduced below.
Any customer traveling with a service or support animal on/after March 1 will need to meet the new requirements as outlined below:
Traveling with a trained service animal
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.
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 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.
Per the Air Carrier Access Act, travelers with disabilities are not required to provide advance notice of their intent to travel, except in very limited circumstances (none of which pertain to the transportation of service animals). Delta’s 48-hour documentation requirement is a violation of the ACAA, as it would preclude passengers with service animals from taking trips on short notice. Further, the requirement to submit veterinary documentation for trained service animals and guide dogs may place an undue burden on people with disabilities by requiring an additional trip to the veterinarian in the short term.
Multiple disability organizations, including the National Federation of the Blind and Canine Companions for Independence, have released statements criticizing Delta’s new policy and their failure to consult with relevant advocacy groups. Although the policy was created with feedback from Delta’s Advisory Board on Disability in mind, the NFB seemed to take a swing at that in a statement which accused the airline of failing to consult with any “democratically elected representative of blind Americans.”
Although I do not have a service animal of my own, I feel a duty to speak up each time the ACAA is compromised. The underlying purpose of the Air Carrier Access Act is to normalize disability, allowing people with disabilities to take advantage of air travel in the same way and with the same ease as their able-bodied peers. The Delta policy on service animals does quite the opposite, and may restrict travel altogether if the trip is not planned far enough in advance.
It is my hope that Delta will hold off on implementing this policy until it has taken the time to consult with the advocacy groups and disability organizations representing those travelers who will be affected. If the policy remains as-is, people with disabilities may need to think twice about flying with a service animal on Delta Air Lines.
If you travel with a service animal, how would Delta’s new policy affect you?
What should be done to limit abuse of the ACAA’s service animal provisions?
Please let me know in the comments below.
Feature image courtesy Delta Air Lines.