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Delta Airlines Places Limits on Emotional Support or Comfort Animals


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Because so many people are taking advantage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regarding service animals, the limiting of animals allowed on airplanes was bound to happen eventually. And now, Delta Airlines has become the first company to do just that. The law is a bit ambiguous because when the ADA was created, the terms “comfort animal” and “emotional support animal” (ESA) did not exist. So, that gives the airlines some wiggle room, and now that Delta has taken steps to limit animals, there’s no doubt that other major carriers will follow suit.

In recent years, airlines have experienced an increased number of people traveling with animals that aren’t truly trained as service animals. These travelers are determined to get around fees that airlines typically charge for animals to accompany human passengers. Sometimes, it’s a way to get a larger pet into the cabin, instead of it being sequestered in the cargo hold, which several animal welfare/advocacy groups recommend against.

It’s easy enough to go online and pay a few bucks to certify animals as comfort, ESA, or even service animals, which the writers of the ADA did not predict when the law was created.

The ADA authors also didn’t envision people traveling with turkeys, pigs, miniature horses, or other animals that people have insisted fit under ADA guidelines. We’ve all read stories in the popular press of animals causing havoc on airplanes. Can a boa constrictor really be an emotional support animal?

Airlines have caused some of this themselves. By charging too much for animals to accompany passengers in the cabin, they’ve pushed passengers to seek other options. Also, many pet owners are afraid to let their pets travel in cargo because of stories about animals being lost by airline carriers or animals dying because of extreme temperatures in the cargo hold. To my knowledge, Delta is not decreasing the fee for animals traveling in carriers in the cabin. And, no airline has taken definitive steps to fully ensure the safety of animals in the cargo hold.

If you are planning to travel on Delta Airlines with an ESA or comfort animal, there are now requirements you will need to meet. Although there is no additional fee for traveling with an ESA or comfort animal, this airline does recommend booking your flight early, so they can better meet the standards.

Breaking it down:

In-cabin requirements

When traveling in the cabin of Delta Airlines, ESA will not be allowed to occupy seats. This means your ESA or comfort animal will have to sit on the floor or on your lap. The animal will also have to be well behaved, not causing a distraction or disturbance to other passengers.

Required documentation for emotional support animals

On your mental health professional’s letterhead, you must submit the following to a ticket agent when checking in:

  • Your mental health professional/doctor’s license number, title, address, the jurisdiction of practice or where the license was issued, phone number, and signature
  • A date from no more than one year prior to the travel date
  • Statements indicating that:
    • Your mental health condition meets the requirements in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition
    • The ESA will be on board the flight for either accommodation of the flight itself and/or for your final destination
    • The traveler (you) are still under the care of the medical health professional/doctor

It’s good to note that Delta will also take a signed or stamped digital letter from your mental health professional as long as the information can be verified through an email address and/or telephone number. They also highly recommend having the mental health professional’s license number for this option.

While there is no fee in America, London and Manchester (U.K.) may require additional processing and handling fees upon arrival with your ESA or comfort animal.

Delta Airlines’ no-fly list

Even with proper documentation, there are several animals that Delta Airlines will not accept into the cabin. These include:

  • Dirty/unkempt animals or those that smell (my concern is that this may be subjective, though I understand the need)
  • Those with hooves or tusks
  • Hedgehogs
  • Snakes
  • Spiders
  • Rodents
  • Ferrets
  • Insects
  • Sugar Gliders
  • Reptiles
  • Non-household birds, such as fowl, birds of prey, etc.

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