Flying with pets is a hassle. Some pets, understandably, can’t fly. Service animals are the obvious exception, as the people they serve rely on them. Yet what is or isn’t a service animal is under more scrutiny of late after a series of odd incidents involving some unexpected animals on planes. And now Delta has announced they are tightening the restrictions.
“Starting March 1,” CBS writes, “customers will have to show proof of health or vaccinations for their animals 48 hours in advance. In addition, owners of emotional-support animals will need to sign a statement confirming their animal can behave.”
These new restrictions apply to service animals and to “emotional-support” animals. Service animals are those trained to assist passengers who are blind or otherwise impaired. Emotional-support animals require no training. It is this second category that critics argue sees the most abuses.
“Federal regulators have interpreted a 1986 access-to-travel law to allow support animals in airplane cabins and in apartment buildings that do not allow pets,” CBS notes. “But some people use untrained pets in order to get them on a plane for free, especially since it’s easy to go online to buy vests or ID card with a ‘service animal’ insignia.”
How big an issue is this? Delta says it carries an average of 700 animals every day. Most are dogs, but passengers have brought a wide variety of animals. Some of the most unexpected have been snakes, opossums, even turkeys. Some have claimed they get emotional support from spiders.
“Since 2016, the company reported an 86-percent increase in ‘animal incidents’, that include animals urinating, biting or showing acts of aggression,” CBS writes. “Last June, a 70-pound dog flying as a support animal bit another passenger several times in the face on a Delta plane in Atlanta. The victim was hospitalized.”
Tom Panek, CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, told CBS about an incident he witnessed on a Delta flight. “For two and a half hours, passengers had to tolerate this dog while it was barking, lunging and disrupting the flight,” Panek said. “No one wanted to confront this individual and say that that dog is not appropriate as an emotional support dog.”
While the disruption on a flight may be an inconvenience, Panek describes a larger problem. Abuse of the privilege by those with untrained service animals could have a trickle down effect. When people begin associating these behaviors with actual service animals, a stigma forms that may end with a prohibition of even well trained animals.