Delta Air Lines is revoking a year-old ban on bringing emotional support animals on flights longer than eight hours. However, it will continue to ban pit bull dogs as on-board service or support animals — even though new federal guidelines forbid service animal limitations based on types of breeds.
Regarding pit bulls, the airline said it was concerned for the safety of passengers, crew and other service animals. The airline’s Monday statement said 40 cases of “aggressive animal behavior” occurred on its flights in 2018 (though it did not say how many were related to pit bulls).
“We continue to work with the [U.S. Department of Transportation] to find solutions that support the rights of customers who have legitimate needs to travel with trained animals,” said John Laughter, senior vice president of corporate safety, security and compliance.
Passengers who require service animals — defined as those trained to work or perform tasks for a disabled person, such as a guide dog — are allowed to bring dogs, cats and miniature horses for free on U.S. commercial flights. Rules may apply to the animal’s size and weight.
Emotional and psychiatric support animals fall into a different category. Airlines may require earlier check-in and medical documentation of the need for a support animal before you show up for your flight.
Delta said it backed off restricting support animals on long flights because it found “a solution to protect the health and safety of those onboard.”
But the airline says it’s still struggling when it comes to allowing pit bulls.
Department of Transportation guidelines updated in August say it views “a limitation based exclusively on breed of the service animal to not be allowed under its service animal regulation.”
Delta, in its statement, backed up its policy with statistics, saying pit bulls account for less than 5% of the overall dog population but 37.5% of vicious dog attacks. Many animal groups say numbers like these are misleading and inaccurate because they are based on unreliable sources for identifying dogs involved in dog bite cases.
“The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, for example, says identifying a dog’s breed accurately is difficult, even for professionals, and visual recognition is known to not always be reliable,” a 2017 story posted on the American Veterinarian Medical Assn.'s website says. Indeed, the Centers for Diseases Control in Atlanta stopped reporting on types of dogs in dog bite cases in 1998.
Each year, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs, and 800,000 receive medical attention for bites, according to the CDC.