Animals

Debate over Delta rules on service & emotional support animals

Many travelers are cheering Delta Air Lines’ new, stricter rules for those flying with service or emotional support animals.

But many long-time guide dog users and organizations that advocate for blind Americans and others with disabilities say the guidelines, which require added documentation and pre-planning, are over-reaching, discriminatory and illegal.

Noting that it has “long been concerned with the abuse and fraud of animals purporting to be service or support animals,” the American Council of the Blind said Delta’s revised policy discriminates against those passengers with legitimate service dogs and makes travel more difficult for individuals who rely on their service animals for travel.

The National Federation of the Blind believes elements of Delta’s policy, which goes into effect March 1, violate the Department of Transportation’s Air Carrier Access Act.

“We are particularly troubled by the requirement that guide dog users submit paperwork to Delta forty-eight hours before flying,” the NFB said in a statement, while “Travelers without guide dogs are not required to plan their travel forty-eight hours in advance.”

The 48-hour ‘intent-to-fly’ requirement means guide dog users will no longer be able to fly on Delta for family, medical or other emergencies,” said the NFB and adds an unnecessary layer of inconvenience for some passengers.

“We stand with NFB,” said Eric Lipp, Executive Director of the Open Doors Organization, “People with properly trained service animals are being punished by Delta.”

Citing a significant increase in the numbers and types of “comfort” animals passengers bring on planes and an 84 percent increase since 2016 in reported animal incidents such as urinating/defecating, biting and attacks, Delta announced last week that certification of a flyer’s need for an animal and proof of an animal’s training and vaccinations will be required for both service and emotional support animals.

“I sympathize with the airlines,” said Pat Pound a disability consultant who is blind and travels with a guide dog, “More people are cheating. Airlines are trying to maintain the system. But I don’t think Delta’s new policies will address the problem. And, as a person with a disability, I’ll end up being penalized.”

An on-line petition with more than 75,000 signatures is asking Delta not to make it harder for people to travel with emotional support animals, but other airlines are exploring following Delta’s lead.

“We agree with Delta’s efforts,” American Airlines said in a statement, “We are looking at additional requirements to help protect our team members and our customers who have a real need for a trained service or support animal.” The carrier said from 2016 to 2017 it saw an almost 15 percent increase the number of customers traveling with emotional support animals.

United Airlines is reviewing its existing policy on service and emotional support animals, said airline spokesman Charles Hobart. “This is something that is important to our employees and to our customers, including those with disabilities and those who do not have disabilities,” he said, “We understand this needs to be resolved soon.”

The Department of Transportation had planned to draft new rules on service animals by July 2017, but those guidelines have yet to be released.

Going forward, “I suspect there will be legal challenges to Delta’s policy on service dogs from individuals and from organizations,” said disability consultant Pound, “This is how an airline is deciding to interpret the law, but a court may have a different idea about what that the law intended.”

(My story about the debate of stricter rules for flying with service and emotional support animals first appeared on NBC News in a slightly different format.)

Pushback on Delta’s decision to regulate emotional support animals

 

Last week Delta Air Lines announced that, come March 1, it would be changing the rules on the documentation required for bringing emotional support animals on planes.

“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” Delta said in a statement, “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”

While recognizing that some passengers do abuse the rules, there are some groups that are not comfortable with Delta’s actions.

The National Federation of the Blind, for one,would have liked to be consulted.

“Blind people have safely and successfully used guide dogs for decades, but this policy fails to make a clear or practical distinction among guide dogs, other  ‘service and support animals’ (as Delta puts it), and pets,” the group said in a statement, “Onerous restrictions on guide dog handlers do not resolve anything and violate the principle of equal access for passengers with disabilities. Furthermore, we believe that elements of Delta’s policy, as currently articulated, violate the Air Carrier Access Act.”

The group says it is particularly troubled by the requirement that guide dog users submit paperwork to Delta forty-eight hours before flying.

“Travelers without guide dogs are not required to plan their travel forty-eight hours in advance. Furthermore, guide dog users will no longer be able to fly Delta in family, medical, or other emergencies. We believe that this forty-eight hour requirement is both unnecessary and unlawful.”

The group is asking for a meetingwith Delta to work out a better system.

Taking turkey: Delta changing rules on service animals

No doubt you know someone, or have set next to someone, or read an outrageous story about someone who has claimed their pet dog or, in some cases, pet turkey, monkey, snake, pig, parrot or miniature pony,  is an emotional support animal that qualifies for a free, uncaged flight inside the cabin.

Sometimes it is true. There are some people whose ability to function depends on an animal. But in more and more cases, people who say they are flying with emotional support animals are simply trying to get around the airline fees for taking a pet on a plane.

Now Delta Airlines – and no doubt other airlines in a second – is saying no more. They’re changing the rules, they say, because all those fake emotional support animals have led to serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight.

“Customers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more,” says Delta, “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”

Delta report an 84 percent increase in animal incidents since 2016, including urination/defecation, biting and even a widely reported attack by a 70-pound dog.

“In 2017, Delta employees reported increased acts of aggression (barking, growling, lunging and biting) from service and support animals, behavior not typically seen in these animals when properly trained and working,” said Delta.

Here’s what’s changing as of March 1 on Delta. Expect other airlines to follow the herd.

In compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act, Delta provides in-cabin travel for service and support animals without charge.

The new guidelines, effective March 1, require that all customers traveling with a service or support animal show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance.

In addition to the current requirement of a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional, those with psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals will also need to provide a signed document confirming that their animal can behave to prevent untrained, sometimes aggressive household pets from traveling without a kennel in the cabin.

“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 in a statement. “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.

Delta is setting up a Service Animal Support Desk for customers traveling with service and support animals. The desk will be where customers go to  verify that the new documentation is received and confirm the customer’s reservation to travel with the animal, prior to arrival at the airport.

The carrier also made it clear that is will no longer accept exotic or unusual service or support animals, including:

  • Hedgehogs
  • Ferrets
  • Insects
  • Rodents
  • Snakes
  • Spiders
  • Sugar gliders
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Goats
  • 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.

Look for the full details of the Delta’s new regulations on service and emotional support animals here.

About time, right??

Stress-busting pups at Vancouver Int’l Airport

There’s been a blossoming of programs that bring dogs (and, in some cases pigs and miniature horses) into airport terminals to interact with passengers as an antidote to the the stress of travel.

The animals are cute, passengers’ reactions are heartwarming and even some of the program names – such as Denver International Airports’ CATS program (Canine Airport Therapy Program) are adorable.

Now comes LASI (an homage to the TV dog Lassie) – which in this case stand stands for Less Airport Stress Initiative – at Vancouver International Airport.

The program will brings Ambassador Dogs from the city’s St. John Ambulance’s Therapy Dog Program into the terminal to help passengers manage the anxiety associated with traveling, work and general stress.

Seven dogs are part of the LASI team (Molly, Bailey, Mira, Norman, Grover, Kermode and Soda) and they will be onsite Mondays through Fridays, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m, wearing branded bandanas and accompanied by a dog handler and a YVR Green Coat Volunteer.

 

The buzz about Victoria Harbour Airport

You can take a ferry between Seattle, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia, but it’s much faster – and far more thrilling  –  to take a seaplane and land at Victoria Harbour Airport (YWH), a floating seaplane airport that is home to Harbour Air and Kenmore Air.

To mark the first anniversary of the floating terminal, Harbour Air, which serves 9 destinations in British Columbia, put a colony of honey bees (four beehives containing about 10,00 bees) and 50 solar panels on the airport’s one-acre green roof.

A screen inside the terminal will let passengers see how much electricity the solar panels are generating and a ‘bee cam’ offers a live feed of what the bees are doing.

The airport beehives – which airline officials think may be the world’s first floating hives – are already generating honey and by fall Harbour Honey should be available for purchase in the terminal’s coffee area. Sweet!