Delta Air Lines is requiring new documentation if you want to bring an animal on board a flight. This is contentious, because people love their animals, but passengers often stretch the “emotional-support animal” idea well beyond what’s reasonable. While I endorse their bold, clear statement, their list of banned animals is capricious and weird.
You may have read about how United Airlines recently turned back a passenger with an emotional support peacock. Weeks earlier, in response to complaints from passengers and flight attendants, Delta had announced it was changing its policy. Here’s how Delta’s statement starts:
Delta introduces enhanced requirements for customers traveling with service or support animals effective March 1
Delta Air Lines is taking steps to further protect its customers, employees and service and support animals by implementing advance documentation requirements for those animals. This comes as a result of a lack of regulation that has led to serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight. The new requirements support Delta’s top priority of ensuring safety for its customers, employees and trained service and support animals, while supporting the rights of customers with legitimate needs, such as disabled veterans, to travel with trained animals.
Most controversial policy announcements begin by waffling; this one doesn’t. The title could be better — the vague description “enhanced requirements” would be more accurate as “new documentation” — but the lede is solid. It explains what is changing and why.
The statement effectively lays out the reasoning with a clear and substantive executive quote, which is a rarity in corporate communications:
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 — Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance. “As a leader in safety, 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.”
In developing the updated requirements, Delta solicited the feedback and input of its 15-member Advisory Board on Disability, a group of disability advocates established more than a decade ago and composed of diverse Delta frequent flyers with a range of disabilities.
Delta goes on to explain how it will now require certifications for trained animals (like a guide dog for a blind person) and letters from mental health professionals for emotional support animals. The intent is to make you prove your animal is a legitimate need.
As with so many issues in air travel, this issue pits passengers against one another in an increasingly crowded cabin. The poor flight crews are put in the position of adjudicating disputes over legroom, armrests, and passengers changing diapers on the tray tables. With this policy, flight crews now have a clear policy to enforce: they just ask for the documentation.
Delta’s bizarre list of offensive animals
While flying, the only non-human animals I’ve ever seen are cats and dogs (no peacocks yet). Many of these were yorkies and beagles, clearly pets that people had put little vests on just because they felt more comfortable traveling with them in the cabin than in the hold. I also once traveled in the bulkhead seat next to a passenger with a very well-behaved golden retriever, but since I had paid Delta extra for a seat with more legroom, space which the dog was now occupying, I asked for and got a refund.
— Josh Bernoff (@jbernoff) April 23, 2014
Delta’s site includes this revealing passage listing what animals are banned:
We do not permit the following as trained service or support animals, as these animals pose safety and/or public health concerns. If you have additional questions, please contact the accessibility assistance line at 404-209-3434.
- Sugar gliders
- Non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game bird, & birds of prey)
- Animals improperly cleaned and/or with a foul odor
- Animals with tusks, horns or hooves
I would love to hear the stories behind the emotional-support porcupines, tarantulas, sugar gliders, goats, and falcons that generated this list. Why are goats here but not cows or water buffalo? Why are snakes on a plane specifically prohibited when the ban on reptiles would already cover them? Would a chimp in a diaper be allowed? What about koalas, which look cuddly but are reportedly ill-tempered and disgusting? According to this list, weasels would be permitted while ferrets are not, which is a travesty.
What’s the strangest animal or animal behavior you’ve ever seen on a plane? And would this ban cover it?