Will Delta's New Emotional Support Animal Policy Actually Make a Difference?

There are two new changes for all Delta fliers with ESAs starting March 1.

It's a very contentious topic: The oft-nebulous "emotional support animals" that are a dime a dozen on planes nowadays, especially during the holidays. There are actually good, legitimate reasons to have an ESA ... but, unfortunately, there are also thousands of people who do this to game the system and avoid paying fees.

The other problem there? It gives the real, working emotional support animals a bad name, especially when one of these impostors act out in a way that is more emotional ... and less supportive. 

Delta Airlines — which transports 700 service and emotional support animals each day — is the first major U.S. carrier to require more than the traditional signed letter from a doctor or other licensed mental health professional that states the passenger's need to travel with the animal. Beginning on March 1, passengers traveling with these animals now need to show proof of health or vaccinations 48 hours in advance and sign a letter that states that the ESA can behave well enough to travel uncrated. 

This isn't a bad thing but it's not really changing that much. Most airlines already require health records to transport pets in cargo or as checked baggage and this honestly makes sense for all animals because you want to have some proof that it's up-to-date on all shots regardless.

The letter is what's a bit more confusing — are people just typing something up and signing it? What exact language needs to be on it? Could someone literally write it on the back of a receipt at the check-in counter? (All Delta's press release says is "those with psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals will also need to provide a signed document confirming that their animal can behave.") It's not hard to send a dog to obedience school — and that doesn't guarantee the pup is actually well-behaved years later. It's also all based on people being honest — or aware — of a pet's possible issues onboard. 

Despite the lack of clarity, the reasons for this are clear. The goal is to make it harder for people who "certify" a pet just to save money when flying to not even think about how prepared the pet is. We haven't talked to a lawyer but presumably the letter will also somewhat protect the airline in incidents like the Marine combat veteran's ESA who bit another passenger on a Delta flight last June, and wouldn't be surprised if other airlines soon follow suit.

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