Too Big To Fly? Two Large Emotional Support Dogs Fly Delta

A row has begun on Twitter after a passenger tweeted a photo of two large emotional support dogs on a Delta Air Lines flight. The topic has sparked questions over whether these animals presented a breach in Delta Air Lines’ Service and Support Animals policy, with many seeking clarity over guideline specifics.

Too Big To Fly? Two Large Emotional Support Dogs Fly Delta
People have taken to Twitter to discuss Delta Air Lines’ Emotional Support Animal policy. Photo: Prayitno via Flickr

Large dogs in breach of Delta conditions

On 15th November, a Twitter user posted a tweet showing two large emotional support dogs disrupting a Delta Air Lines’ in-flight breakfast service. The dogs, the size of their human owners when seated, are seen standing on the armrest and peering over food mid-flight. The post said:

However, it wasn’t just personal disgruntlement that prompted the tweet. Many of the comments and other tweets on the topic suggested that the animals were in breach of Delta’s policy.

The airline puts safety first

Delta Air Lines gladly welcomes service and support animals onboard its flights, so long as they adhere to stringent principles. For starters, there are restrictions on the type of animal that can be flown. The policy rules out reptiles, non-household birds, amphibians, rodents, insects, and some farm animals being flown within the cabin.

Too Big To Fly? Two Large Emotional Support Dogs Fly Delta
Delta welcomes service dogs on board but they must adhere to restrictions. Photo: Can Do Canines via Flickr

Though Delta allows dogs, they must not be too large. On its website, Delta states:

“On Delta flights, service and support animals are expected to be seated in the floor space below a passenger’s seat or seated in a passenger’s lap…The size of the animal must not exceed the “footprint” of the passenger’s seat.”

Despite that, it’s quite clear that this emotional support duo did not fit the airline’s dimensions. Not only was it their size, but their behavior. Trained service dogs are conditioned to adhere to the flight restrictions meaning that even large dogs can fit within the footprint. However, emotional support animals are not given the same level of training. Some felt that the fact that these dogs were unable to stay within their footprint presented issues.

Some responses to the initial tweet suggested that the dogs would have compromised safety during an emergency landing. Others worried about cabin cleanliness within the aircraft and its health implications.

But Delta is serious about the health and safety of its passengers and crew. In a recent update to its policy, John Laughter, Senior Vice President for Corporate Safety, Security and Compliance at Delta, said:

“We will never compromise on safety, and we will do what is right for the health and safety of our customers and employees…”

Passengers dodging costs?

But this story is just one on the topic.

Flying emotional support animals has become contentious. More and more passengers are filing paperwork for emotional support animals thought to be falsely mandated. Instead, some speculate that passengers are benefitting from dodging airfares for their animals.

Too Big To Fly? Two Large Emotional Support Dogs Fly Delta
There is an increasing number of passengers flying fraudulent ESA cases. Photo: Oliver Holzbauer via Flickr

Delta subtly hinted to its awareness of the increasing number of fraudulent animals cited as emotional support animals in saying:

“We continue to work with the Department of Transport to find solutions that support the rights of customers who have legitimate needs to travel with trained animals.”

Delta has made a number of safeguards to the real beneficiaries of its policy in recent years, such as age restrictions to prevent young animals from flying and limiting how many animals can fly per passenger.

On a phone call with Simple Flying, the airline said that fraudulent usage of the system created a disservice to those passengers whom it benefits most. It also suggested more government regulation might be needed to standardize and preserve regulations for beneficiaries.

But it’s difficult to distinguish the real cases from the false. And Delta is not wanting to get any more negative press on the issue.

Previous ESA issues

Earlier this year, Delta faced a lawsuit when a passenger sued the airline for an ESA-related incident. In 2017, the passenger claims to have been mauled by an emotional support dog on board.

The case for emotional support dogs also suffered a blow when a flight attendant of American Airlines was attacked.

But of course, the possibility of allowing emotional support animals on flights is freedom for passengers that the airline is not likely to give up. To its merit, Delta does state that it operates a discretionary case by case basis when authorizing animals in the cabin. The dogs in question went through rigorous admin to qualify for the flight.

Do you think size restrictions should apply for emotional support animals? Have you had experience flying with an emotional support animal? Let us know in the comments!