Delta cracks down on service animal scammers

Wrapping up the Delta A350 inaugural with a gorgeous sunset at Narita
Wrapping up the Delta A350 inaugural with a gorgeous sunset at Narita

Looking to travel with your emotional support duck? Delta Air Lines will no longer be an option as of 1 March 2018. Ditto for hedgehogs, goats, snakes and a slew of other animals. The company is cracking down on the proliferation of such extras on board in the face of backlash from crew and other travelers as well as what the company describes as “a lack of regulation that has led to serious safety risks involving untrained animals in flight.” The carrier emphasizes that “customers with legitimate needs, such as disabled veterans,” will still be able to travel with their ESAs, assuming the proper paperwork is filed.

Read More: Delta tightens leash on comfort animals on flights, with rules for lack of federal regulation

The new rules require that passengers notify the airline 48 hours in advance of the trip to file the necessary forms. The 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. “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.”

In addition to the new advance notification requirements the carrier is also restricting what is calls “exotic or unusual service or support animals.” That qualifier applies to several categories of animals:

  • 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

Moreover, the company explicitly calls out the National Service Animal Registry (NSAR) and other similar organizations. Simply registering with one of those groups no longer qualifies a pet to fly freely (both of cost and kennel) in the cabin. Even if registered with such a program Delta will still require the other paperwork to carry the animal on board. Given that the NSAR markets itself as a workaround to “take your pet everywhere, live in no-pet housing (with NO fee), and fly for free!” it is nice to see a company take a stand and consider the others affected by such scofflaws.

Of course, the rise of ESA travel means that Delta risks upsetting or offending those travelers. Though there is also a chance that other airlines pursue similar policies. It is unclear that this volume of passengers is significant enough, either in frequency or revenue, to truly carry an outsized adverse impact on revenue. And, given the nature of US society, the company seem likely to face a lawsuit in the near future challenging the new policy. But given that regulators chose over and again to abdicate their responsibility on this front it is nice to see one airline take a stand.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. It’s about time that airlines stop this abuse. I am a disable Vietnam vet and I cope, why in the world does anyone need a dog on a 17 hour flight? It’s even worst in our grocery store with animals putting their nose in the freezers.

    1. I’m willing to accept their presence when the service animal is properly trained and when the human has the proper medical diagnosis to require such. That’s been abused for far too long and now Delta is finally going to require real documentation. That’s a big step forward.

    2. As someone who’s experienced critical (i.e., I felt my life was threatened) panic attacks, it’s worth it to keep a strict vetting on these policies. It probably got too loose, and they need to clarify the situations under which companion animals need to board, but as someone who’s done this kind of attack before, I assure you this is a legit issue that just requires additional attention to weed out those who’re taking advantage of an overly-accommodating policy.

  2. A few years ago I had a woman and her daughter sitting next to me with their service dog “Jake”. I believe they paid the in cabin pet fee .As a dog lover I had no problems but I would certainly have an issue with someone bringing an “exotic” animal on board as a emotional support animal. I applaud Delta for making this policy change and to try to bring back some semblance of reason to the in cabin pet policy.

    1. Hopefully the rules will help address that. Delta will no longer accept a generic “service animal” certification from random online providers. It will require documentation from a vet and doctor or certified mental health professional. It isn’t perfect, of course, but it is a HUGE step towards fixing the mess we’re in.

    2. Seth Miller , start charging for these furry friends and see how quick this changes. I’ve always understood a service animal assist… But this has gone way too far

  3. The 48-hr rule is great too — CLE-EWR back in November, I picked a bulkhead E+ seat at 24 hours out but got moved when the passenger in the middle seat had a huge ESA dog. Ended up in a middle seat in the back.

  4. GOOD! If you need a goat, a reptile or even some dogs to be your friend while you fly on the airplane, it’s time to start thinking about driving to your destination.

    1. My wife and I are Muslims and all Muslims consider dogs unclean animals, so the moment we see an animal on a plane we ask to be rebooked. I remember on a trip to Frankfurt a dog put his waste in the hallway of the terminal. there is no reason for this lack of consideration of others.

  5. With all that said – I truly feel that if a dog is in a carrier that fits under the seat, then the airlines need to lower the cost of flying with your pet.

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