Perhaps you’ve seen a dog wearing a vest adorned with a patch which reads “Do Not Pet: I Am Working.” This is the badge of a service dog, one which has been trained to assist a human who is blind or prone to seizures, to cite two examples. The vast majority of these dogs are, in fact, working.
The problem is that the less scrupulous dog owner can easily buy such a vest and patch online and pretend that their dog is a certified service animal. Then, if that person declares that such a dog is an emotional-support animal, the untrained dog flies for free and is not required to be caged during an airline flight: Federal regulators have interpreted a 1986 access-to-travel law to allow support animals in airplane cabins.
It’s a loophole being exploited, and not just for dogs. Delta Air Lines officials said in a recent news release that customers had “attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more.” Seriously?
Delta announced on Jan. 19 that it was tightening its rules for transporting service and support animals in an effort to reduce misbehavior by dogs and other creatures that air carriers are required by law to allow on board, the New York Times reported.
As of March 1, passengers with service or support animals will have to submit proof of health or vaccinations through Delta’s website at least 48 hours before their flight. Customers with psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals must also sign a document attesting to the animals’ ability to behave in the cabin or risk being barred from boarding or removed from the plane.
We applaud Delta’s action, and hope other passenger airlines follow suit.
The number of service and support animals has surged 150 percent on Delta planes since 2015, the airline said. Since 2016, the company reported an 86 percent increase in “animal incidents,” that include animals urinating, biting or showing acts of aggression. 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, was on a Delta flight recently, made miserable by a misbehaving support dog, CBS News reported.
“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.”
“It profoundly affects us because the next time that we go into a restaurant, they may tell me, ‘no, you don’t have access here’, and I wouldn’t be able to take three steps without Gus,” Panek’s service dog.
It’s the particulars of airline travel, and the aspect of adding an untrained animal to an airtight cabin, that we feel make Delta’s decision the right one.
It’s relatively easy to let you off a bus or a train if your support animal is causing a disturbance; it’s much harder, and much more of an inconvenience for other passengers, if the plane has to land to let you and your animal off a flight from Chicago to Los Angeles.
There’s also the secondary matter of your emotional support animal relieving itself in the middle of the sealed Coach Class cabin. In other words, all passengers and crew are subjected to whatever your emotional-support animal does during the flight.
Trained and certified service animals can fly with us anytime. They’re doing real work for physically disabled people.
We’ll take those who make use of emotional support animals at their word. But we’re hoping that other airlines will follow Delta’s lead and insist that those passengers bringing emotional support take their fellow passengers into consideration.