Lonely Planet Writer

Emotional support animals are facing stricter rules on this airline

As more customers try to board planes with unusual animals like turkeys, sugar gliders and more, Delta Air Lines has announced that it is tightening its rules for people travelling with service and support animals.

A man says goodbye to a plane with his dog.
Delta is tightening its rules for emotional support animals. Image by Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm / Getty Images

The new rules were spurred by a lack of regulation “that has led to serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight,” according to the US airline. The new standards will be put in place to ensure the safety of customers and employees while taking into account the rights “of customers with legitimate needs, such as disabled veterans” to travel with a trained animal.

Delta says it carries about 700 service or support animals each day, which totals nearly 250,000 per year. Customers have gone beyond the usual support dogs and attempted to fly with “comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” according to the airline. Soon the airline will allow cats and dogs as support animals, while any other species will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Guide dogs in training. Image by Westend61/Getty Images

The changes come as the company reports an 84% increase in animal incidents since 2016, which include animals defecating on planes, biting passengers and even an attack by a 70-pound dog. Delta maintains that growling, barking and biting is not a behaviour typically seen in service and support animals when properly trained and working.

Currently, Delta provides travel for service and support animals free of charge. The new guidelines, which take effect on 1 March, will require that all customers with service or support animals show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance, which can be done online. Currently, travellers need a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional to travel with a support animal, but now, they will also need a “signed document confirming that their animal can behave to prevent untrained, sometimes aggressive household pets from traveling without a kennel in the cabin”.

“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 for corporate safety, security and compliance, in a statement. “We worked with our Advisory Board on Disability to find a solution that supports those customers with a legitimate need for these animals, while prioritizing a safe and consistent travel experience.” Find out more here.