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Delta Airlines announced a new policy that, in addition to limiting travelers to one service or emotional support dog, bans any “pit bull type” service dogs from traveling alongside their disabled handlers.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Delta Airlines announced updates to their service and support animal policy which places increased restrictions on how many and which types of animals can fly with the airline.
While the new rules limit handlers to no more than one emotional support or service dog, most infuriating to customers is a new ban, effective July 10, on any “pit bull type” dogs either as emotional support animals or as legitimate service dogs flying with a disabled handler.
Further complicating the matter is Delta’s lack of a definition of what exactly is a “pit bull type” dog. Traditionally, “Pit Bull” is a broad term used to describe breeds including the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, American Bulldog, or mixed-breed and other dogs having physical characteristics common to these breeds.
However, according to research from the National Canine Research Council, identifying a dog’s breed based off of its appearance is inaccurate. There is also evidence showing that a dog’s behavior or personality cannot be predicted by breed alone because of the wide variety of factors operating on each individual dog.
Who will be making the final determination about whether a service dog qualifies as a “pit bull?” Will that determination be made on appearance alone? An Animal Farm Foundation study found that dogs are misidentified as pit bulls 75% of the time when based on appearance alone.
The breed ban also has many advocates questioning its legality.
Under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, any dog breed can legally be a service animal. And, breed bans, like those across hundreds of municipalities in the nation which ban pit bulls, do not apply to service dogs. Specifically, the law states that “municipalities that prohibit specific breeds of dogs must make an exception for a service animal of a prohibited breed, unless the dog poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. Under the “direct threat” provisions of the ADA, local jurisdictions need to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a particular service animal can be excluded based on that particular animal’s actual behavior or history, but they may not exclude a service animal because of fears or generalizations about how an animal or breed might behave.”
However, surprisingly, commercial airlines are not required to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Instead, they follow guidelines set forth by the Air Carrier Access Act, a Federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities in air travel.
Under the Air Carrier Access Act, service dogs may be excluded from travel, but those exclusions have traditionally been determined on a case by case matter. More specifically, “as a carrier you must determine whether any factors preclude [the service dog] traveling in the cabin as a service animal (e.g., whether the animal is too large or heavy to be accommodated in the cabin, whether the animal would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others, whether it would cause a significant disruption of cabin service, whether it would be prohibited from entering a foreign country that is the flight’s destination). If no such factors preclude the animal from traveling in the cabin, you must permit it to do so.”
Limiting access to a service dog based solely on their breed places unfair and discriminatory restrictions on that service dog’s disabled handler.
“The rise in serious incidents involving animals in flight leads us to believe that the lack of regulation in both health and training screening for these animals is creating unsafe conditions across U.S. air travel,” said John Laughter, Delta’s Senior Vice President — Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance. “As a leader in safety, we worked with our Advisory Board on Disability to find a solution that supports those customers with a legitimate need for these animals, while prioritizing a safe and consistent travel experience.”
Weigh in! Do you believe airlines should have the right to ban specific breeds of service dog? Explain why or why not in a comment below!