Delta, Congress move to improve airline travel for pets

By on October 4, 2018 with 6 Comments

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last year, many residents were faced with a choice they should never have to make: fly to safety while leaving their pets behind to face the storm alone, or stay home and risk their own — and their pets’ — lives. Current airline rules make traveling with pets during disasters stressful, at best, and impossible, at worst. Dogs too large to travel in the cabin simply cannot fly and when there are limited seats available, accommodating pets of any size or kind becomes even harder. After the hurricane in Puerto Rico, some frantic pet owners resorted to trying to pass off their dogs as emotional support animals to get them on flights.

Even in normal times, when people travel with pets, they can end up facing heartbreak. That’s what happened with the family of Kokito, the French bulldog puppy who died during a flight in March when he was stowed in a plane’s overhead bin at the insistence of a flight attendant.

The issue of making airline travel safer and more accessible for pets is one that concerns us here at the Humane Society of the United States, and it’s one we have been working on steadily over the years. In March 2000, the U.S. Congress passed portions of the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act, a measure that the HSUS strongly supported. The new law required airlines to report incidents of animal loss, injury or death, so consumers could compare safety records, and to improve animal care training for baggage handlers. Many airlines responded to this law by implementing restrictions on accepting pets as cargo. After Hurricane Katrina, we worked with Congress on the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, enacted in 2006, requiring state and local agencies to consider the needs of pets and service animals as part of their disaster response planning. But the act doesn’t require corporations responsible for travel – such as airlines – to do the same.

Now, at least one airline is taking further steps to make traveling in the skies a little friendlier for pets. On Tuesday, Delta airlines announced they have added a staff veterinarian to the Delta Cargo team. The veterinarian is charged with reviewing policies and procedures to ensure safe and comfortable pet travel. The airline is also working with a partner to improve its pet transportation services.

Earlier this year, I reached out to Delta to express concerns after they announced a ban on pit-bull-type dogs in the cabin, regardless of whether the dog was a service animal. We had an encouraging conversation, and while the pit-bull-type dog ban has not yet been rescinded, we are hopeful that these initial positive steps will ultimately bring about that policy change as well. Today’s step is a good sign of the company’s willingness to listen and to learn.

Congress has taken further action, too, to improve airline travel for pets. The Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act, led by Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Reps. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., bans the placement of pets in overhead compartments. It was included in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that passed the House last week and the Senate yesterday, showing that even in these partisan times, both Republicans and Democrats — like a majority of Americans — think pets deserve basic (and common sense) humane treatment. The bill also includes a provision that calls on the Department of Transportation to set rules for service and emotional support animals.

These are encouraging developments. We need clear and realistic requirements for how pets and emotional support animals can travel on airplanes to keep pets and passengers safe during flights. That will also keep airlines from responding with knee-jerk reactions such as banning breeds and types of dogs when animal-related incidents occur.

In the absence of action by the Department of Transportation, airlines have taken it upon themselves to try to resolve the issue. Yesterday Spirit airlines became the latest airline — joining Delta, United, Jet Blue and American — in announcing the requirement that passengers with emotional support animals must submit necessary forms, including certifying the animal has received training, 48 hours prior to the flight.

There is a lot more to do in this area. According to the Air Transport Association, more than 5,000 animals are killed, injured or lost on commercial flights each year, including dozens of pets. Pets can face risks, including exceptionally hot or cold temperatures, poor ventilation, insufficient oxygen, and rough handling in the cargo bay. The HSUS will continue to take a good look at our public education, corporate reform and public policy work with the aim of improving the situation for animals in commercial travel. Meanwhile, we applaud Delta Airlines and members of Congress for working to make travel safer for our best friends.

P.S. Planning on traveling with your pets? Be sure to read our tips on preparing to fly with your pet.

Companion Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Julian says:

    It would be wonderful if they would stop lumping psychiatric service animals in with ESA’s, as they are not at all the same thing.

    Trained service dogs that help for mobility dont require the handler to get a doctors note, ergo violating privacy, so why would trained service dogs that help for psychiatric conditions like seizures, epilepsy, or ptsd be allowed to be considered under different rules?

    Also, I have a feeling now that all of these animals suffering in the cargo space is going to make it so that the “amazing shrinking seats” will backfire greatly against the airlines in a form of some poetic justice. Theyve been cramming people in so tightly these days, and now really the only hospitable place on the plane for an animal is under the seat, but larger dogs cant fit there, let alone humans fitting into the seat itself. Essentially what needs to be done is that the planes need to be re-fit in order to actually consider the health of passengers, both human and animal alike.

    Isnt it amazing that its taken this long for such a basic dignity to be sorted out? Unbelievable.

    The airlines and the DOT have a lot to figure out, as they have kind of backed themselves into a corner. I dont envy them.

    • Chanon Cole says:

      Agreed. It’s beyond frustrating to see so many people taking advantage of system, and to boot, not knowing the different between the ESA/SAb … Any idiot is smart enough to go online, spend 100 bucks on a for ESA/SA certification and know that under many circumstances, they can refuse when asked… I absolutely believe that something needs to be done because it will ultimately affect someone’s life in one way or another … Untrained dogs with inexperienced a dog owner, claims their dog is a SA and the dog nips at a kid, well there goes any opportunity for illegitimate service animal to be a renter or go to an establishment. And of course the establishment or property owner is going to be leery of any legitimate SA, because the last guy said his dog was an SA to, in reality that last guy just bought the t-shirt … Far too many people use ESA/SA to get around BSL, it seems to be the most popular use, and they bank on the fact that landlords and biz owners don’t know the laws, chances are they probably don’t, therefore allowing people to get away with it, and they aren’t getting away with it really they’re taking away from someone who actually needs that apartment or needs service offered, but because there was only one apartment left, and family with the esa got there and applied before one of our heroes a veteran who needs his service animal, now has no other options, because someone wanted to get around the law they took away from our country’s Heroes.

      I’ve got 4 pits, they are my heart and soul, and I have been looking forever for a place even out in the country in the middle of nowhere, I can’t even have one of my well trained, well mannered, sweet dogs, no matter how desperate I became or how much I needed to run to home to live I would never ever take away with someone who might really need. and the really sad part about these people is that all they have to do is do a little legwork, there are nonprofits that help people with the breed find rental properties that accept the breed there are websites that are dedicated to helping bully owners find housing … Property owners business owners are getting wise to it, I hope. It shouldn’t be a bad thing people will change their policy entirely so they don’t have to get caught in the very sensitive world we are in today, and there ask someone claiming to have an ESA/SA animal.

      I think they’re definitely need to be better restrictions on especially service animals, there needs to be licensing, most service animals go through extensive training so that they can accommodate their human, and even know there is a database it’s not regulated.

      If this is something that has directly affected you, then I do apologize. I know it’s not my fault but it’s a lazy generation and I apologize on their behalf, they’re too lazy to do it them self.

  2. Julie Wall says:

    Zero emotional support animals should be inside a plane. They all should be in cargo.

    ADA should close their loop hole. All service dogs have to be accredited.
    Only professionally trained service dogs, from service dog training programs (hopefully they will be certified/regulated soon and able to issue service dog cards much like drivers licenses) should be in the cabin.

    THAT policy change would protect the flying public, protect real service dogs and eliminate all bogus ESM/service dog animals from cabins of planes.

  3. Denise says:

    I do not believe that owners of service animals have to provide written documentation it’s against the law. People with disabilities only need to be able to tell a proprietor that the animal. Is a service animal and tell them what 3 tasks the animal Is trained to do to mitigate their owner’s disability. That’s it. Dog or animal needs no formal training or registeatuon with any agency. Good work though . Lifting need bans. Banning certain breeds may lead to Banning persons on a flight just because of their nationality

  4. Andrea harris says:

    Airlines should be pet-friendly. Many may not understand but it’s true that pets help reduce stress, anxiety, etc. That’s why many people register them as emotional support animals. It’s the responsibility of an airline to ensure the safety and well-being of the passengers. People should boycott the airlines that ban ESAs. More efforts should be done to educate people about the air carrier access act that allow passengers to travel with their emotional support animals. Some ESA letter providers like Steady Care Medical Clinic provide online services allowing pet owners to get their ESA letters to hassle free.

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