Is That a Dog in the Airline Seat Next to Me?

Febuary 2, 2018
By Carrie Zochert

If you think you've been seeing more animals on airlines recently, you are probably right. Delta Airlines reports that it transports 700 service and support animals every day, or nearly 250,000 per year. Under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act, airlines are required to transport service animals, including emotional-support animals, free of charge. The Act does not require such animals to be caged during flight. While trained service animals generally present no problem, an increase in biting, urinating, and defecating incidents by emotional support animals has prompted a change in policies by the major airlines.

As of March 2018, Delta will require all customers traveling with a service or support animal to show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance. In addition, passengers with emotional support animals will be required to provide a signed document confirming that their animal can behave on the flight. Delta's new policy can be found here.

Last June, a Delta Airline passenger was bit in the face several times by another passenger's emotional support animal-a 70 pound Labrador mix. The attack left the injured passenger with serious facial wounds. Click here to view article.

Standards relating to service animals under the Air Carrier Access Act are different than those under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, under the ADA, only dogs that are individually trained to perform tasks for a disabled person are considered service animals. Other species of animals are not, with the exception of miniature horses under certain conditions.

Under the ADA, businesses are generally required to permit service animals to accompany people with disabilities wherever members of the public are allowed to go. When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, business are permitted to ask two questions to assess whether they must admit a purported service animal: (1) whether the animal is required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A disabled person may be asked to remove his or her service animal from the premises only if the animal is out of control or it is not housebroken. In those circumstances, a business must nonetheless offer the disabled person the opportunity to obtain goods or services.