If you feel like you've seen a sharp increase in the number of emotional support animals lately, you're not alone. Delta Airlines has, too—between 2016 and 2017, the airline has seen an 84% increase in incidents involving emotional support animals. These included the predictable messes that accompany pets, given an extended number of hours indoors. But they also included more serious instances of barking, growling and biting other travelers. This trend isn't helped by the fact that you can purchase a service animal vest on Amazon for about $20, so some of the four-legged therapists you've seen on public transportation might simply be pets.
In response to the trend, Delta Airlines is cracking down on service animals on their flights, and it's happening just in time for the holidays. Beginning Dec. 18, Delta will no longer allow emotional support animals on flights longer than 8 hours. “These updates support Delta's commitment to safety and also protect the rights of customers with documented needs—such as veterans with disabilities—to travel with trained service and support animals,” said John Laughter, senior vice president of corporate safety, security and compliance.
Laughter's statement indicates that if you truly need your service animal to make it through the day—and you have the paperwork to back it up—the airline will accommodate your animal. But if you simply can't bear to part with Fido for a few hours because, well, he's cute and all, then you might be better off taking a road trip.
In addition to the service animal restriction, Delta is also issuing an outright ban on animals younger than four months old, no matter the length of the flight. This brings the airline in line with the vaccination policy from the Centers for Disease Control, but it spells bad news for everybody surprised by a new puppy or kitten over the holidays.
What if I already bought my tickets?
If you already have tickets and you've requested to fly with your support animal, fear not. Delta will honor reservations made prior to Dec. 18 for flights scheduled through Feb. 1. After that, no exceptions will be made, so if you plan to travel with your pet in the future, you'll need to look to other airlines for help.