Delta Air Lines has announced it is implementing advance documentation requirements for passengers travelling with service animals from 1 March.
The carrier says the move is a response to “a lack of regulation that has led to serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight”. It cites several incidents in which so-called service animals have injured or acted aggressively toward staff and passengers, including a dog attack in which a man required 28 stitches in his face.
Delta says it carries around 250,000 service animals a year and has seen a rise in passengers claiming to take comfort from turkeys, sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and other animals. The airline has seen an 84 per cent increase in animal incidents since 2016.
The carrier says it sought the advice of its 15-member Advisory Board on Disability, which is made up of Delta frequent flyers with a range of disabilities. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, service animals must be permitted to sit in the main cabin with its owner unless it creates an obstruction in an area that must remain clear for emergency evacuations, or if it poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. However, Delta claims that untrained animals regularly stretch across seats and aisles and move around the cabin during flight – something true service animals are trained not to do.
From 1 March, passengers travelling with a trained service animal will be required to submit a health form and/or immunisation record signed by a veterinarian via the airline’s website at least 48 hours prior to travelling. Those with emotional support or psychiatric service animals will face the same requirement, as well as a request form, which requires a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, and certification of the animal’s training.
In addition, the airline has released a list of the types of service animals accepted under its policy.
John Laughter, senior VP of corporate safety, security and compliance at Delta, said: “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 US air travel. 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 prioritising a safe and consistent travel experience.”