Delta Cracking Down on Emotional Support Animals

Delta announced that starting March 1 they’ll be requiring new advance documentation for passengers bringing ’emotional support animals’ on board their aircraft.

Basically they say the whole fake emotional support thing has gone too far. Delta carries 250,000 service and support animals each year — up 86% since 2016. And we’re not just talking about trained dogs, “[c]ustomers have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders, snakes, spiders and more.”

Sometimes the dogs on Delta have been large.

And sometimes the dogs on Delta have been vicious.

So they’re taking the position that people bringing on even dangerous animals ruins it for those who have a genuine need. And the rapid growth in passengers bringing animals on board has certainly not tracked a similar growth in passenger disability needs.

Under the Air Carrier Access Act (often mis-reported to be the Americans with Disabilities Act), Delta is required to carry service and support animals in the cabin free of charge. And airlines have run scared of these rules, assenting to nearly any passenger request. The mere repetitive of the word ‘support animal’ has often sufficed.

Here are Delta’s new rules “in addition to the current requirement of a letter prepared and signed by a doctor or licensed mental health professional” which go into effect March 1, which sounds like they’ll do little to make a dent.

The approach I’ve suggested for inflight service animals is as follows:

  • Require a veterinarian’s note about the fitness of the animal to travel around other people not a self-certification from the passenger
  • Require insurance provided by the passenger
  • Require that the pet either fit underneath the seat or in a paid-for seat next to the passenger
  • Require that in all cases that they remain inside a carrier while inflight although not necessarily under a seat.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. At least it’s something. Good for Delta – the “support animal” thing has gotten out of control!

  2. I don’t think under Part 382 and the ACAA, for what we might call traditional service animals like a guide dog, that Delta or any other carrier can require advance notice as you say regarding vaccinations 48 hours in advance. The ACAA’s Part 382 is clear, at least in terms of guide dogs, that credible assurances from the passenger and or things like harnesses or tags are enough. I’m not an expert on ESA’s so I won’t even try to guess what the requirements are for them, or whether the new guidelines for advance notice on ESA’s jive with Part 382. A blind passenger with a guide dog could walk up to the ticket counter and buy a ticket making a reservation on the spot, and a carrier cannot impose any sort of advance notice requirement unless perhaps they are traveling to a foreign destination. Also a pax does not have to disclose their disability or service animal in advance even if booking in advance, again service animal like a guide dog, I’ll let someone else comment on ESA’s!

  3. Gary, I agree with most of your suggestions, but trying to fit a large dog in a carrier in an E- seat (legroom area) may be impossible.

    Instead I suggest the use of some kind of muzzle.

  4. @Mika No one is going to stop a blind dog from flying. This is to stop the dangerous untrained emotional support pitbulll etc who just shows up at the gate, regardless of who they belong to, veterans or non veterans. Train and document if you need to bring your animal.

  5. Finally! The abject abuse of a broad and well intentioned law needs to be brought into check. I’m sure that this will trigger lawsuits and DOT complaints. However, I sincerely hope that this will motivate the powers that be to provide more clarity and abuse protection to the Air Carrier Access Act. There are people with REAL Disabilities that require these accommodations.

  6. Gleff who do you hate more TSA or ESA? It is only one letter difference. You just had to go with the most gruesome photo google had to offer…good call.

    This is not going to fix much, the airlines are feeling what small businesses have been feeling for years. Regulations designed to help those in need but are abused by some to benefit themselves. I will still never get over the guy that put the original Squeeze In burger shack out of business (all be it temporarily).

  7. Halleluiah, the majority of people are frauds and Im sick and tired of looking the other way when someone’s Golden Retriever is takes up an entire row, albeit on the floor.. This this law has been an absolute joke, and abused. Typical from the Obama admin..

  8. “Require that in all cases that they remain inside a carrier while inflight although not necessarily under a seat.”

    For people who genuinely need a service animal, this may defeat the point. I think your first three suggestions would sufficiently address the issue.

  9. I suspected this was coming. I was flying home from FLL after New Year’s and the airport looked like a dog park. To me, it was hilarious — although I was a bit worried about being seated next to a dog (it didn’t happen, but I think there were 2 dubious-looking “service animals” on my flight).

    My guess is the 98% of passengers will love this move, and 2% of passengers (the dubious service animal travellers will hate it). Of course, if you REALLY need your animal with you, it still seems possible to bring one — you’ll just have to jump through some hoops!

  10. @phil – not “the most gruesome photo google had to offer” rather an event that precipitated this policy change, a bite that occurred on a delta flight several months ago

  11. Gary, I agree that emotional support animals have absolutely gotten out of hand. However, I can see some issue with your proposal as it relates to ALL service animals. Essentially, if you have a sight or hearing guide dog, they are simply not trained to alert their handlers while in a carrier, so this would be an obvious violation of the ACAA. The animals that are needed to calm a passenger with clinical anxiety or phobias would likely need to be in the passenger’s lap. Herein lies the difficulty for airlines’ lawyers: how to separate out the *genuine* support animals from the people who simply do not wish to pay the fee to carry their pet. I think having doctors/ vets certify the animal and the need is certainly an important step. Another would be to reduce the cost to bring a pet on board.

  12. @Mike Pyyhkala: You seem to be confusing emotional support animals with service animals. Gary’s article pertains only to ESA’s.

    Service animals perform a physical function for the owner, such as guide dogs for the blind, hearing animals for the hearing impaired, etc. They are highly trained to do their function, and certified concerning their behavior. There are specific provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act that prohibit discrimination because someone has a service animal. No one (that I know of) argues with this type of animal on board an aircraft, although a guide dog that is too large to go beneath the seat (most of them) must have a seat purchased for it, as it cannot fill the area on the floor between the seats for safety reasons. And, every service animal I am aware of gets regular vaccinations as part of their certification and licensing.

    ESA’s, on the other hand, perform no physical service. They are supposedly there for the emotional well being of the individual. There is often no training, no certification, and sometimes not even a current dog or cat license (if a dog or a cat). Often, owners will obtain certifications over the internet to avoid paying the pet fees levied by the airlines, or to bring their little friend into an otherwise “no pet” condominium or HOA. See, e.g.,,

    States are now starting to regulate this area. For example, Fla. Stat. §413.08 makes it a second degree misdemeanor to misrepresent an animal as a service animal, and defines a “service animal” as one that performs a physical service for an individual, and specifically excludes ESA’s from the definition of a service animal.

    Delta’s Contract of Carriage/Domestic Tariff already requires notice. It states:

    Rule 33(H) Service Animals
    Delta will accept for transportation, without charge, a service animal required to assist a person
    with a disability. To the extent possible, Delta will assign a seat to the person that provides sufficient space for the person and the service animal. Delta will permit the service animal to accompany the person onboard the aircraft and to remain on the floor at the person’s seat. The service animal will not be permitted to occupy a passenger seat. To the extent permitted or required by law, Delta reserves the right to deny transportation to any service animal when reasonably necessary, in Delta’s sole discretion, for the comfort or safety of passengers or crewmembers or for the prevention of damage to the property of Delta or its passengers or employees.

    (J) Advance notice for special services: To the extent permitted by law, Delta may require advance notice for certain special services desired by a person with a disability. Services applicable under this rule include but are not limited to:
    1) transportation of an electric wheelchair on an aircraft of less than 60 [seats];
    2) provision of hazardous materials packaging for batteries or other assistive device that are
    required to have such packaging;
    3) accommodation for a group of 10 or more passengers with disabilities traveling as a group;
    4) provision of an onboard wheelchair on an aircraft of 60 seats or more;
    5) transportation of an emotional support or psychiatric service animal in the cabin;
    6) transportation of a service animal on a flight segment scheduled to take 8 or more hours; or
    7) accommodation of a passenger with both severe vision and hearing impairments.
    Such requests should be made by the passenger at the time of reservation and as far in advance as possible. If a passenger requests a special service at least 48 hours prior to departure, Delta will, to the extent possible, provide the service. If a passenger requests a service less than 48 hours prior to departure, Delta will make a reasonable effort to provide the service.

    See also, Rule 55 – Specially Trained Service Dogs.

    Delta’s efforts are an excellent start, and hopefully, United and American will copy Delta slavishly (as they almost always do). The requirement of written certification and proof of vaccination (a current dog or cat license would usually be acceptable) for an ESA is a small but significant start if enforced; although, there are websites that offer fraudulent documentation for a fee, just to allow people to bring their pets onto aircraft without paying the airline fees, or into pet-free condominiums or homeowner associations. Delta also needs to uniformly enforce its in-cabin restrictions on transportation of animals, such as putting them under the seat and keeping them in their carrier while in the aircraft and in the boarding area. See,

  13. Clearly this has gotten out of hand on DL and other airlines. I was on a SW flight out of FLL before Christmas and there were 8 dogs on the flight, only one was a true service animal, the other all with bows in their hair, one woman had it in a bulkhead row, not allowed, had it on a seat out of carrier not allowed, and was told at least twice to get dog off seat and nothing done, another dog across from me spent its time curled up in the aisle, just crazy.

  14. Steve above has to attack Obama our nation’s first Black president. I’d prefer not allowing Trumps White Supremacist the right to fly. Il’d rather sit next to a dog then s Racist.

  15. Steve above has to attack Obama our nation’s first Black president. I’d prefer not allowing Trumps White Supremacist the right to fly. Il’d rather sit next to a dog then a racist

  16. Thank God Delta is bringing some sanity to this. I have seen more and more support animals (fortunately no snakes, sugar gliders or turkeys). I love animals, especially dogs, but planes are just too crowded to add that additional dimension. I have asked to move my seat when I had an animal in the seat next to me.

    so I hope other carriers follow suit.

  17. If I ever traveled with my dog, you can bet your ass she’s traveling in the cabin with me.

    Until you can guarantee me that some minimum-wage, “I finished the 8th grade and don’t take crap from nobody,” asshole isn’t going to leave her crate on the tarmac in 120-degree heat during a 30-minute smoke break, there’s no way in hell she’s going in the hold. No way in hell. I’d sooner travel by ocean on a cruise line that has proper kennels.

  18. I bring my emotional support turkey on flights in case I don’t like the snacks/food the airline is serving (serves the purpose of emotional or real support for my hunger)!!

  19. On a RJ-175 Calgary to DFW I had to share space with pax and two “service animals.” People are touchy about their pets. They don’t want to board them or put them into the hold. So the “service animal” scam morphed into a means to bring pets onboard. If my objections make me a “pet hater” so be it. I am a busy traveler and not interested in being a pet sitter.

  20. IMHO it is vital that any (loose or large) animal be trained to sit, be quiet or lie down on command. In an emergency evacuation situation, a nervous animal does not understand the safety instructions. I have been on FULL flights where I was obligated to share all of my leg area with a large animal who took up the whole (three) seat leg space. We are not allowed to have anything on the floor during takeoff but an animal can be untethered and on the floor space. I have been on a flight in which the dog in a cage barked loudly the whole time. And I really don’t care for the friendly dogs who want to play and lick you. Those owners think it is so cute that the dog likes you. A FA told me that on a flight previous a large dog had diarrhea several times on the floor bulkhead area. It was traveling with two teenage boys who told the FA that their (nasty) stepmother had fed it something to make it sick on purpose. The FAs say they can admonish humans but don’t do anything to the animals because if the ESA laws. But definitely any large animal that does not fit under the seat in a cage should have to purchase a seat. Maybe we can change the law to require ESAs to have obedience training and flight training for travel that isn’t from an online fake school.

  21. If I was a pet owner and wanted to fly with my pet, I would try to take it on the plane as a emotional support animal, because I would be afraid the airline will kill it. I get that

    However, personally, I am allergic to cats and dogs, most owners do not properly train their animals, they take up space. I have seen really large dogs on planes. Airline terminals are now full of dogs. Gary has written about bed bugs and lice, what happens if the pet has fleas? Would the airplane be infested with fleas? My friend with pets have litter boxes. Where are the pets going to go to the bathroom (joke: especially with the new mini-bathrooms)? I think I am for restricting emotional support animals on the plane.

    BTW: In my last flight, red-eye SEA-JFK, fluffy was sitting right behind me and barking half of the flight. I could hear it through my Bose headset, luckily pretty much muffled. At least I could not hear the owner trying to calm fluffy down. Can you imagine not having a noise cancelling headset and flying with a barking fluffy.

  22. I think a claimed support animal need should have to be documented by a state or federal health agency, and the animal’s training should have be certified by a nationally recognized service animal nonprofit, similar to guide dogs for the blind. Congress should pass a law mandating the requirements, so airlines don’t have be menaced and browbeaten by petulant, self-absorbed, narcissistic pet owners masquerading as disabled persons.

  23. I have some doubts about whether this complies with Federal Law, and I have not personally seen any problems with service animals (just came off a 10 hour flight that had two nice dogs) but Delta would be wise to fix the problem by offering a safe way for pets to travel without unacceptable risks so that people don’t need to abuse the service animal regulations — most people would rather pay to have their pet aboard or to put their pet below to be treated in a way they know they will see them alive again, but this is not currently on offer.

  24. Absolutely, 100% right on, Mike Feldman. If someone’s dog is lying under my feet, I can assure you my Louboutin stiletto will end up in it’s kidney. Oops! I have yet to figure out why the Airlines don’t have an area in the back of the plane for people traveling with pets that won’t fit in a carrier under the seat.

  25. I’ve had the benefit of a service dog for just over a year now. I’d like to offer my views on this subject from the perspective of ‘one of them’, and would be interested to know how others here feel about what I believe on this subject.

    My first step was to speak with my MD, to see if he felt a service dog would be appropriate for me. Only with his written endorsement would I have proceeded, and I feel this should be required for others as well – to have a professional medical verification of their need.

    Secondly, I felt it was essential to have a well trained dog that could not only assist me, but would be well behaved in all public situations. Mine had already been trained to work as a ‘therapy dog’ – they visit people in hospitals and other sites to provide comfort to others, and to obtain their certification must perform flawlessly a rigorous exam and are provided with insurance by the group certifying them when they are working in this role.

    In addition, I obtained my own insurance to cover everywhere else we’d be, in order to have done all I could to be prepared for even the worst, least likely events.

    Lastly, I make sure he is freshly bathed, nails filed, teeth brushed, etc, before we travel, making him as pleasant as possible for anyone we are near, and to minimize the allergens for those with sensitivities. We contact the airlines well in advance to plan to be least troublesome when we travel, and preflight press the gate agents to seat us with folks who are OK with us being near them. The dog is also muzzled in the airport in hopes this will further calm anyone who might fear being bitten.

    Thus far, all our seat-mates have expressed enjoyment in flying with us. My dog knows to lay still and be quiet unless told otherwise. I believe this should be expected of all traveling service dogs.

    I don’t understand the value of other species being employed in this role, but I’m no expert here. If a cat could do the job, I’d be fine with them as well.. I’ve no idea how other animals can really meet the standards of training a dog can, so I won’t try to advocate beyond the use of dogs here.

    So… if this was what you could expect from anyone else traveling with a service dog, would you be OK with that? If not, what else do you feel would be required to make it acceptable?

    Thanks for taking the time to work all this. I will be looking for any replies and will try to learn from them and may make changes based on your ideas.

  26. All airlines need to dI this for”Emotional Support Animals”. “Plz be clear…..a “Service Animal” is DIFFERENT from a SUPPORT aanimal! Service animals are covered by the ADA(AmerI can Disabilities Act). They are in one of the few certified schools for service animals. They are “certified” for a specific purpose & will never poop, pee, growl, bark, attack, etc. Whereas an “Emotional Support” animal is NOT covered by the ADA!! They are
    NOT trained or certified by these schools!! Anyone can can pay $$ to get a “fake” Dr letter– online!! Anyone can by a “fake” service animal vest for $19.99 anywhere…..So unfortunately for those who truly do have need of “Emotional Support Animal” (ie: Veterans w/PTSD). Good for Delta!! We are seeing anywhere from 5-12 on our flts!! Getting sooooo out of hand!!

  27. Gary
    I do believe people take advantage with peacocks, turtles, etc. But a couple of your suggestions:

    Require that the pet either fit underneath the seat or in a paid-for seat next to the passenger

    Require that in all cases that they remain inside a carrier while inflight although not necessarily under a seat.

    The purpose of my pup sitting in my lap–helps me to not be too anxious. Petting her and scratching her back takes my mind off many little problems I am up against. Putting her in a carrier would surely defeat the purpose.

  28. Gary
    I do believe people take advantage with peacocks, turtles, etc. But a couple of your suggestions:

    Require that the pet either fit underneath the seat or in a paid-for seat next to the passenger

    Require that in all cases that they remain inside a carrier while inflight although not necessarily under a seat.

    The purpose of my pup sitting in my lap–helps me to not be too anxious. Petting her and scratching her back takes my mind off many little problems I am up against. Putting her in a carrier would surely defeat the purpose.

  29. Great submission. True some people ruin it for the people who genuinely need it. But then again to curb this problem the people who actually need the emotional support animals should not suffer. I am a patient to anxiety and got my terrier an ESA letter from this website myesadoctor and am planning to travel with him next month. One thing esa owners can do is be responsible for their ESA. make sure they are at their best behavior.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *