In response to a growing number of passengers bringing aboard questionable emotional support animals, last year several major U.S. airlines changed their policies regarding these and service animals allowed on flights.
American Airlines, for example, prohibited hedgehogs, chickens, ferrets, snakes and some other rather unusual critters. JetBlue only allows dogs, cats and miniature horses aboard as emotional support animals. Southwest Airlines allows emotional support dogs and cats on leashes.
Unlike any other major airline, in June 2018 Delta Airlines banned all “Pit Bull-type” service and emotional support dogs from flights.
This controversial ban was “the direct result of growing safety concerns following recent incidents in which several employees were bitten,” according to a statement at the time from Delta. In one of those incidents, two flight attendants were bitten by a dog identified as a Pit Bull.
What’s interesting is that a Delta passenger was mauled in 2017 by an emotional support dog identified as a Labrador/Pointer mix — yet the airline banned neither of those breeds.
So instead of doing the sensible thing and taking action against the owner of the dog in the most recent biting incident, Delta decided to punish hundreds of dogs and their responsible owners. Breed bans and breed-specific legislation (BSL) unfairly single out dogs, usually Pit Bulls, based on their looks instead of their behavior. It’s sometimes referred to as “breedism.”
Because BSL is so unfair and has proven to be ineffective in increasing public safety, it’s opposed by almost every major animal welfare organization. The heads of both the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) quickly released statements condemning Delta Airlines’ new policy.
Prohibiting Pit Bulls only serves to spread “false and life-threatening stereotypes,” said Matt Bershadker, CEO of the ASPCA. “Every dog is unique, even dogs within the same breed, and their behavior is influenced by many factors.”
— ASPCA (@ASPCA) June 21, 2018
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the HSUS, agreed, pointing out that Delta’s ban also discriminates against passengers who need these dogs.
“People across the country and the world rely on their pets for their physical and emotional well-being,” she stated, “and this discriminatory policy hurts them without providing any associated safety benefits. … Federal laws in place to protect emotional support and service animals do not discriminate based on breed, but instead base exclusions solely on the behavior of the individual animal in question.”
Delta Airlines’ ban did, in fact, break those federal laws.
Banning Pit Bulls as service dogs violates both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). Under the ACAA, airlines may exclude service animals that are too large or heavy, pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others, cause a disruption of cabin service or are not allowed in a foreign country. Nothing in these regulations “permits the airline to deny ‘Pit Bull’ dogs (or whatever label someone subjectively wants to assign to them) as service dogs,” notes the Animal Farm Foundation (AFF), which provides service animals, including pit bull type dogs, to people with disabilities.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees the ACAA, confirmed this in June 2018, stating that “a limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal is not allowed,” according to the Washington Post.
Fourteen months after enstating its Pit Bull ban, Delta Airlines will have to end it — but not because it wants to.
On August 8 the DOT released a Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals. The final word is that U.S. airlines can’t discriminate against certain dog breeds. (Hooray!)
“The Department’s Enforcement Office views a limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal to not be allowed under its service animal regulation,” the Final Statement says. “The Enforcement Office intends to use available resources to ensure that dogs as a species are accepted for transport. Airlines are permitted to find that any specific animal, regardless of breed, poses a direct threat.”
The DOT’s Final Statement also includes new rules that allow airline employees to ask passengers “reasonable” questions about a service animal’s vaccinations, training and behavior. Airlines can still require advance notice if passengers are bringing emotional support animals on flights. Any animal perceived by an airline to pose a threat to the health or safety of other airlines can be prohibited from a flight.
The new rules will go into effect after the Final Statement is published next week in the Federal Register. Airlines will have one month to start following them.
Many thanks to the DOT for this decision that will help save the lives of Pit Bulls and the people they support. As for Delta Airlines, I strongly recommend that all dog lovers take their business to an airline that doesn’t unfairly and illegally discriminate against certain dog breeds.
Portions of this story were originally published on Care2.com in July 2018.