In early December 2020, the US Department of Transportation issued a final ruling regarding emotional support animals (ESAs), allowing airlines to no longer accommodate emotional support animals if they don’t want to.
Alaska Airlines recently became the first major US airline to announce a ban on emotional support animals, and then American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines, followed days later. Delta Air Lines has now become the latest airline to introduce a similar policy change.
Delta bans emotional support animals
It has been announced that Delta Air Lines will no longer accept emotional support animals on its flights, and will instead only transport service dogs.
There’s one major thing that makes the Delta policy different than the American and Alaska policy, based on my reading of the announcement — Delta won’t allow emotional support animals ticketed starting January 11, 2021, but it sounds like any emotional support animal confirmed for travel before then will be honored.
In other words, it sounds like you can still travel with an emotional support animal for the next 11 months if you ticket your travel now (if someone has a different read on the press release, please let me know, because Delta is a bit vague).
Under the revised policy:
- Customers traveling with a trained service dog should submit DOT documentation via delta.com attesting to the dog’s health, training, and behavior, 48 hours prior to departure; a customer may also present the documentation at the ticket counter on the day of departure
- Customers traveling with a trained service dog on flights scheduled for eight hours or more also have to submit a DOT Relief Attestation form, attesting that the dog will not relieve itself in the aircraft, or can go without causing health or sanitization issues
- Delta will lift its ban on pit bull type dogs that meet documentation requirements for trained service animals
Will emotional support animals become service dogs?
While emotional support animals will be banned, don’t expect this to be the end of dogs over 20 pounds in the cabin of planes. Ultimately people have historically used the emotional support animal loophole for one of two reasons — to save on the cost of bringing a dog into the cabin (compared to paying the pet fee), or to get a dog over 20 pounds into the cabin (which is otherwise the weight limit).
As I noted in a separate post, odds are good that many people may choose to recategorize their emotional support animals as psychiatric service animals. Here’s how the DOT defines psychiatric service animals:
Psychiatric service animals are treated the same as other service animals that are individually trained to do work or perform a task for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability.
Owners of dogs are allowed to train their own psychiatric service animals, so there’s no need to have these dogs trained by an outside party:
It is our understanding that the vast majority of emotional support animals are dogs, and dogs can be task-trained to perform many different tasks and functions. We also note that the rule does not require service animal users to incur the cost of training by third party schools or organizations; service animal users are free to train their own dogs to perform a task or function for them.
And you can self-certify your need for a psychiatric service animal:
Psychiatric service animal users will no longer be required to provide a letter from a licensed mental health professional detailing the passenger’s need for the animal, nor will they be required to check in one hour before the check-in time for other passengers.
I’m not making a judgment call here one way or another, but rather I’m simply pointing out that those celebrating the end of dogs in airplane cabins will likely be disappointed.
Yes, there will now only be dogs in cabins (rather than peacocks, pigs, etc.), but I would expect that there will still be a significant number of dogs traveling in the cabins of planes under these rules.
Delta Air Lines is banning emotional support animals for flights booked as of January 11, 2021. Based on my reading of the policy, though, emotional support animals will still be accepted for the duration of the schedule as long as they’re ticketed by then (unlike at Alaska and American).
This policy update follows a recent ruling by the DOT giving airlines the right to do this, and Delta is the third major airline to add this restriction, after Alaska and American.
While I know many will celebrate this change, don’t get too excited — psychiatric service animals continue to be allowed, and that includes dogs. While this will lead to the end of animals other than dogs in airplane cabins, I wouldn’t expect a huge decrease in the number of travelers with dogs.
What do you make of Delta Air Lines’ emotional support animal policy change?