By Katherine Schneider, for the Chippewa Valley Post
I’ve traveled independently all over the United States for the last 45 years with Seeing Eye dogs, but Delta Airlines recently announced new policies that could well make that travel more difficult.
And Delta’s impending policies for service and emotional support dogs won’t solve the problems they were meant to address – namely, fake and poorly behaved service and emotional support dogs and other animals.
I’ve flown with my Seeing Eye dogs to family vacations, job interviews, funerals and professional meetings. I’ve ridden on four-seater planes and jumbo jets. My various dogs and I have met mostly wonderful fellow passengers and airline staff. We’ve encountered a variety of other service and emotional support/comfort dogs over the years, most of whom were well behaved and – like us – just trying to get where they were going.
In the last few years, as more airlines have allowed “emotional support animals” as well as service dogs, there have been more problems with poorly behaved animals and fake service dogs brought into the cabin by someone who just doesn’t want to pay for their dog to travel in the cabin.
I’ve encountered a few of these dogs who wanted to attack my Seeing Eye dog as I passed them going to my seat or barked piteously throughout takeoff and landing, clearly scared out of their minds by the plane noises and air pressure changes. The Seeing Eye and other guide and service dog training schools provide a lot of training to us dog handlers about dealing with our dogs in the kind of crowded stressful situations that flying has become these days.
Emotional support dogs and their handlers get no such training and support. For example, when I shared a tip about giving dogs a sliver of ice to suck on while taking off or landing to help their ears, the barking dog quieted and the owner was able to go back to getting emotional support from the animal.
Delta’s new rules, which are scheduled to take effect on Mar. 1, require uploading a current proof of rabies vaccination form two days before a flight and checking in at the Delta service counter for each flight to have the dog’s status verified. Emotional support dogs must also have a letter from a doctor saying they are needed and will behave in public.
On a personal level, some of the problems with this policy are:
- What if I need to travel in an emergency and haven’t registered my dog’s vaccination records with Delta?
- What if other airlines adopt this policy? How many do I need to register with to be safe?
- What if I’m rebooked from another airline onto Delta and I haven’t registered with them?
- What if I’m traveling with friends or family who want to check in online or use kiosk or curbside check in?
The Air Carrier Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which both cover parts of my flights through the Friendly Skies, already state that service animals in public situations must be well behaved or they can be made to leave.
This legislation also stipulates that a person with a disability can’t be discriminated against. The extra registration and having to check in at the counter for each flight seem like discrimination to me.
Moreover, a letter from a doctor or mental health professional stating that an emotional support or comfort dog is well-behaved in public can be faked and/or written with kind intent but no thought of the actual travel situations the dog will be in.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) apparently will roll out some new regulations about “emotional support dogs” later this year for public comment. Please join me in encouraging Delta to put its new regulations on hold so the DOT can meet with guide and service dog groups, as well as airlines, to work out something that is fair and effective.
It’s in all of our best interests to have safe travel, without excess burdensome and ineffective rules.
To contact the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the U.S. Department of Transportation with your thoughts on this topic, go to https://airconsumer.dot.gov/escomplaint/ConsumerForm.cfm
Katherine Schneider is a retired clinical psychologist and a writer. Follow her blog at http://kathiecomments.wordpress.com