pets on planes

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??

Pets on planes

Each week on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin, I have the opportunity to answer a reader’s question. This week the topic was pets on planes.. A reader wanted to know if she could take her small dog in the cabin.

The good news is that, yes, on most airlines small pets may travel in the cabin.

The bad news: There are plenty of restrictions. And, in some cases, the ticket for your tabby or toy poodle may end up costing more than your own.

“The cost runs anywhere from $50 all the way to $125. And that’s each way,” says Kim Saunders of Petfinder.com.

“Pets will also need a recent health certificate, while will require a veterinary office visit that can cost from $35 to $100. You’ll also need to be sure your pet is in an approved pet carrier that can fit underneath the seat.”

Passengers taking a pet on a plane should also keep these tips in mind:

Make your reservation well in advance. Frontier Airlines allows up to 10 ticketed pets in the cabin, but most airlines only allow one or two. “You and your pet may not be able to take the flight you want,” said Saunders. And all pets need to remain in their carrier under the seat for the duration of the flight.

Give your pet food and water far ahead of the flight so that your pet can visit the relief area before going through security. (A few airports have relief areas post-security; but every airport has a spot for Spot outside). “Even then, it’s a good idea to put something soft and absorbent in the carrier. Just in case,” said Saunders.

Make sure your pet is social. Your pet must stay inside the carrier at all times, but at the security checkpoint, you’ll be required to take the pet out and either walk it or carry it through the metal detector. “If there’s an alarm because of the leash or a metal collar, the pet will be checked physically, in a sort of pet pat-down, by an agent to resolve any kind of issue,” said TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez.

Some people have tried to put their pets − and sometime their babies − through X-ray machines. “That won’t harm a pet or a baby, but we prefer they don’t do that,” said Melendez.

For more information about taking your pet on a plane, check your airline’s website or the resource section of a website such as Petfinder.com, which recently issued its 2011 list of the most pet-friendly airlines in the United States and Canada.