This post was originally published on August 8, 2019 and has been updated based on recent events.
Federal law stipulates that service and support dogs must be permitted to travel with their owners in the cabin of an airplane. In August 2019, the laws were clarified after one airline banned a specific dog breed as a service or support animal on all its flights.
A Delta Air Lines passenger who was allegedly attacked by an emotional support dog on a flight in 2017 is currently suing the airline and the canine’s owner. This lawsuit prompted Delta to ban pit bull type dogs as service or support animals across all flights on July 10, 2018. Later that year, Delta also banned emotional support animals (ESAs) on flights more than eight hours in length.
On August 8, 2019, the ban against pit bulls was found unlawful by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In a Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals, the DOT stated that it was “not aware of and has not been presented with evidence supporting the assertion that an animal poses a direct threat simply because of its breed.”
The ruling determined that, although airlines are permitted to ban any animal that they think might cause a safety issue on flights, the prohibition of a specific breed is unlawful.
On September 23, 2019, Delta issued an updated statement on their policy.
“After working with the DOT and cross-divisional business groups, Delta was able to develop a solution to protect the health and safety of those onboard while also allowing ESAs to fly on longer flights. Effective immediately, Delta is discontinuing its 8-hour flight limit for emotional support animals (ESAs),” a Delta press release said.
“Pit bulls account for less than 5 percent of the overall dog population but 37.5 percent of vicious dog attacks,” the airline reported. “Understanding this risk, Delta has not come to a solution for allowing pit bulls onboard that satisfies its own rigorous safety requirements.”
Although Delta has had open communication with the DOT and rescinded its ban on emotional support animals on flights longer than eight hours, no resolution has been reached regarding pit bulls.
“Our 25,000 flight attendants are my greatest responsibility, and I will do everything I can to keep them safe and send them home to their families in the same condition they came to work,” said Allison Ausband, Senior Vice President – In-Flight Service.
A Service or a Problem?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), airlines must allow service dogs in cabins on planes. Emotional support animals are also permitted in cabins under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), although airlines may require documentation from a licensed mental health professional that the handler has a recognized mental or emotional disability.
Extensive training is required for animals to learn how to perform tasks to help people with a wide range of physical, psychiatric, sensory (blind or deaf) or intellectual disabilities. However, the ADA states that any breed of dog can operate as a service dog or ESA, meaning shepherds, terriers and pit bulls all have the same right to take on these duties. Currently, support animals provide a helping paw to approximately half a million Americans.
More assistance animals are flying in cabins than ever before, with Delta alone carrying more than 245,000 on flights in 2018. Unfortunately, this dramatic increase is due in some part to passengers who exploit the law and try to present their pets as service or support animals. These incidents jeopardize the law for people who require assistance and negatively affect the overall public opinion of support animals.
Nobody likes to leave home without their furry travel companions. Thankfully, It’s not just assistance animals who are permitted to fly. Many airlines also allow pets on board. Visit BringFido’s airline pet policies page for a detailed breakdown of more than 600 airline pet policies so you can make an informed decision about bringing your best friend with you on your next flight.